Political Notebook

Parties throw down the gauntlet in battle for Illinois Senate seat

February 4, 2010

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CHICAGO - Republicans greeted the Democratic primary winner for the US Senate seat once held by President Obama in Illinois with an online video called “Making Tony Soprano Proud.’’

Democrats congratulated the Republican victor by calling him “a Washington insider who wants to return to the failed policies that created the economic mess we now face.’’

Obama’s adopted home state was the wrong place to look for bipartisanship in the opening hours of a general election campaign that will have national implications because of the seat’s previous occupant.

Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois treasurer since 2007, will face Republican Mark Kirk, a five-term congressman from Chicago’s northern suburbs.

“Come November, congressman, your days as a Washington insider are over,’’ Giannoulias, 33, a presidential friend and basketball buddy, said in his victory speech last night.

In his speech Kirk set the stage for the “Sopranos’’ ad, posted on YouTube, when he attacked corruption surrounding Illinois Democrats since the state legislature removed Governor Rod Blagojevich from office in January 2009.

Federal prosecutors have accused Blagojevich of trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder, among other allegations.

“Over the last year, a quiet despair has descended on the state of Illinois: a governor arrested, a senator’s seat disgraced, corruption rampant, unemployment rising, and families struggling,’’ Kirk said. “The people of Illinois now see the arrogance of a one-party state.’’

Giannoulias, whose family bank has given loans to a bookmaker as well as convicted Illinois influence peddler Antoin “Tony’’ Rezko, led Kirk 42 percent to 34 percent in a survey taken Jan. 22-25 by Public Policy Polling.

The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

A moderate on social issues and an intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserve, Kirk, 50, is seeking to replace Senator Roland Burris, a Democrat who decided against running for the seat following his controversial appointment by Blagojevich in December 2008.

Illinois held the first primary of a midterm congressional election year that will prove critical to Obama’s political standing and agenda.

In the battle for the Democratic nomination for governor, incumbent Patrick Quinn, who replaced Blagojevich, led 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent over state comptroller Dan Hynes, according to an Associated Press tally that included 99 percent of the state’s precincts.

“If democracy means anything, it means we need to count all the votes,’’ Hynes said yesterday.

A short time later, Quinn claimed victory. “The time for fighting is over,’’ he said. “We have won this election.’’

In the Republican primary for governor, state senators Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady remained in a virtual tie, separated by 751 votes with 99 percent of precincts counted.

Dillard backed Obama’s presidential candidacy, while Brady opposes the administration’s proposal to buy an almost vacant state prison to house detainees now held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

-- Bloomberg News

Emanuel apologizes, vows to help end use of word
WASHINGTON - Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, apologized again yesterday for using the word “retarded’’ during a private strategy meeting last summer, telling advocates for the disabled that he will join their campaign to help end use of the word.

The controversy over Emanuel’s remark continued to dog the sometimes foul-mouthed senior Obama adviser despite his private apology to Tim Shriver, Special Olympics chief executive, shortly after the comment was made public last week in a Wall Street Journal story.

In a statement after yesterday’s meeting at the White House, Shriver and five other disability rights advocates said Emanuel had “sincerely apologized’’ for the comment.

They said he would work with them to help pass legislation to remove the word from federal law.

An Emanuel aide declined to comment after the meeting.

The Journal had reported that Emanuel used the phrase “[expletive] retarded’’ during a meeting with liberal activists in August.

The controversy ballooned after Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor, called on President Obama to fire his chief of staff. In a statement on her Facebook page, she asked, “Are you capable of decency, Rahm Emanuel?’’

-- Washington Post