An October 5 Rasmussen Report poll showed Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mike Kirk in a tight race. They are running for the seat now held by Roland Burris, who was appointed to the post by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich after then-Senator Barack Obama became President. Poll respondents gave Kirk 45% of the vote, while Giannoulias scored 41%, with 6% undecided. The poll had a 4 percentage-point margin of error.
Religion: Greek Orthodox
At 30, Giannoulias was the youngest state treasurer in the country when he assumed that position in Illinois. He attended Boston University and earned a law degree from Tulane University’s School of Law. A son of Greek immigrants, Giannoulias worked at his family’s Broadway Bank, which was later seized for giving bad loans. Giannoulias developed a friendly relationship with President Obama, then Senator, when they played basketball together. He has the president’s official endorsement.
Now in his fifth term as Congressman, Kirk is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he held the rank of commander and is a naval reserve intelligence officer. Kirk attended Cornell University and earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Georgetown Law School. He was the target of media scrutiny recently, when news came out that he had lied about his military and teaching history. He claimed he “misremembered” the facts.
Giannoulias supports Israel as a crucial democratic ally in the Middle East and backs the push for a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. He believes that the international community should isolate Hamas and push support for a moderate Palestinian state. In turn, the Arab states must recognize Israel’s right to exist. In 2009, as state treasurer, Giannoulias announced Illinois’s purchase of $10 million in Israel bonds.
Kirk has a record of supporting Israel’s missile-defense system against threats of Iranian attacks. In 2007, Kirk called for an inspector general investigation into $140,000 that the U.S. Agency for International Development gave to the Hamas-controlled Islamic University in Gaza.
Giannoulias said that any sanctions against Iran should target the country’s economy and the Revolutionary Guard. He proposed that the government publish a list of companies that have business dealings with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard so that the American public can make better decisions about investments.
Kirk supported a 2005 gasoline restriction on Iran as a means of impeding its alleged acquisition of nuclear weapons. In 2007 he co-authored the Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act, which aimed to extend America’s sanctions toward petroleum producers, suppliers, carriers and insurers.
Giannoulias stated that the energy of the American forces is better spent fighting the threat of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He supports the president’s decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq.
Kirk has expressed repeatedly the need to stop Afghanistan from becoming a “narco-state” where terrorism thrives and criminal activities provide funding for Al Qaeda.
Counter-terrorism and Civil Liberties
Giannoulias said he supports Obama’s push to close the prison facility for alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and relocate its inmates to maximum security prisons in the states, including one proposed in Illinois. “If there is an opportunity to create 3,000 jobs and inject $1 billion into our economy, I think we should seriously consider the possibility of moving up to 100 terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay to the supermax facility in Thomson, where they will join 340 convicted terrorists who are safely being held on U.S. soil without incident,” Giannoulias wrote in a questionnaire.
Kirk has been inconsistent on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the Thomson facility. He initially wrote to Obama, “If your Administration brings Al Qaeda terrorists to Illinois, our state, the Chicago Metropolitan Area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization… Al Qaeda terrorists should stay where they cannot endanger American citizens.”
Kirk pushed for the release of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury after he was imprisoned for trying to fly to Israel. Choudhury openly spoke about the rise of Al Qaeda in Bangladesh and opposed anti-Semitism, pushing for an open dialogue between the two nations, instead. He was later released on bail.
Giannoulias has expressed support for the building of the planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. He said he sympathized with family members who lost their loved ones in the attacks but that freedom of religion must be practiced especially when it is difficult.
Kirk released a statement in which he critiqued the location chosen for the cultural center, saying it causes relatives “undue pain” and that it should be moved to a “less controversial site.”
Giannoulias said he wants to protect the woman’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade and will oppose any constitutional amendment that would override that right. He said he supports funding of initiatives such as better access to contraception and sex education programs. At the same time, Giannoulias has said he respects the notion that federal money should not fund abortions.
Kirk is a well-known Republican supporter of abortion rights. He voted no on funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion information, and voted against an amendment that would have cut federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
Gay and Lesbian Rights
Giannoulias said he believes the right to marry, as a civil institution with all legal rights and responsibilities, should be given to everyone. His official campaign statement supports the right of individual states to give same-sex couples the right to marry. He also supports the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Kirk has been outspoken about his support of gay rights in the United States and internationally, as well. He voted to “prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between ‘one man and one woman.’” He also appealed to the Malawi government for the release of two gay men jailed for “committing acts of gross indecency with another male person.”
Alexander Giannoulias (D)
Last Report: June 30, 2010
Giannoulias came under fire in April when federal regulators seized Broadway Bank, where he worked as a loan officer. The bank was founded by his father 30 years ago. Giannoulias and his family allegedly gave bad loans to convicted felons, but Giannoulias claimed he did not give the loans during his time at the bank.
Mark Kirk (R)
Last Report: June 30, 2010
Kirk has been embroiled in controversy over repeated false statements about his naval experience. Kirk said he received the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award in 1999 for service during the Kosovo war when, in fact, it was given to his entire unit. He has since apologized and admitted to the error.
In 2001, the Jewish population in the state of Illinois was 270,000 people, or 2.2% of the population.