Friday, August 21, 2009

Berkowitz Eye on the Cheryle Jackson-Alexi Giannoulias U. S. Senate Democratic Primary Race, Part 2

In Part 1 of the Berkowitz Eye on the Jackson-Giannoulias U. S. Senate Democratic Primary race, we focused on Laura Washington's suggestion that Cheryle Jackson is leapfrogging over other African-American leaders in her "rookie run," for political office.

The remaining critique of Laura Washington’s assessment of Cheryle Jackson's U. S. Senate candidacy focuses on two points: (a) Washington’s view that “Jackson’s economic development mantra…will be dead on arrival by September,” and (b) Jackson’s “got to bone up on the myriad issues a serious Senate candidate must master…” Let's take a look at whether either of these argments makes sense.

Cheryle Jackson’s Economic Development Mantra DOA?

This is a serious substantive charge by Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington. Is Cheryle Jackson overplaying her “economic development” expertise? Is the economic development issue not that important? Is Jackson’s issue focus too narrow?

Cheryle Jackson’s team is poised to argue the Jackson Senate campaign is about, in large part, economic development, the economy and jobs. We’ll see if they can pull it off, but that’s their play. Ms. Jackson has been talking a lot about her job for the last few years as President of the Chicago Urban League, which Jackson transformed from an emphasis on social service agencies to jobs and entrepreneurship.

Cheryl Jackson and jobs

As Jack Kennedy and the late Jack Kemp used to say, the best form of welfare is a job—and not a “make work,” job created by government, but a wealth-creating job emanating from free enterprise. Is Cheryle Jackson another Jack Kennedy or Jack Kemp (Mr. Hope, Growth and Opportunity)? We’ll find out. At least, for now, she is playing in that ballpark.

Cheryle Jackson’s senior campaign adviser argued earlier this week to this journalist that (a) Microsoft and Google took off during an economic downturn, (b) jobs and innovation come from small business [hard to believe, but at one time, Microsoft and Google were small businesses], and (c) Jackson is interested in helping small business get off the ground and helping small businesses become larger businesses—creating many Illinois jobs along the way.

Transcending Race, Politics and Class

Team Jackson argues this focus on economics will have across-the-board appeal among Whites, Hispanics and African-Americans. Indeed, this is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s 2004 U. S. Senate Democratic Primary campaign, when he said frequently, “I may be rooted in the African-American community, but I am not limited by it.”

U. S. Senate Candidate Obama campaigned on the issues of affordable higher education, affordable healthcare and jobs—arguing implicitly to this journalist that he transcended race, politics and class, and that he would be competitive in every demographic- and he was. Is this where Cheryle Jackson is going? We’ll see. But one thing is for sure. Laura Washington’s judgment that Jackson’s arguments about economic development are “Dead on arrival,” is simply not warranted. Not when Illinois has an unemployment rate above ten percent, almost one percent above the national average and likely to be rising for the foreseeable future.

Who owns a bank?

Cheryl Jackson argues she can identify with the average person, unlike the thirty-three year old Alexi Giannoulias, whom she asserts represents privilege. Jackson’s line is that unlike her Democratic Primary opponent, State Treasurer Giannoulias and his family, “I don’t own a bank, the bank owns me.” Of course, Jackson makes this argument while drawing a $227,000 annual salary from the Chicago Urban League, which puts her in the top one or two percent of income earners in America.

Boning up on the issues

As to Cheryle Jackson "boning up on the issues, " her senior campaign adviser acknowledged to this journalist that Ms. Jackson is currently studying a four-inch notebook with materials on thirty different issues. The campaign adviser made the point that Treasurer Giannoulias also has to “bone up,” on the issues. It is not as if the Illinois State Treasurer spends a lot of his official time focusing on domestic public policy, foreign policy and cultural issues. Indeed, when has anyone heard State Treasurer Giannoulias-- or those close to his Senate Campaign-- discuss Giannoulias' views on national issues?

War and economic stimulus

Touching on some specific national issues, Jackson’s senior campaign adviser told this journalist earlier this week that Jackson is concerned that “President Obama not get bogged down in Afghanistan in the same way that President Bush did in Iraq and LBJ did in Vietnam.” On the economy side of things, Jackson’s adviser said Jackson would have supported, had she been in the Senate, “some sort of economic stimulus package, but not necessarily the same one that passed.”

Of course, the question remains—Does or will Cheryle Jackson know the national issues well enough to be a strong candidate in the general election? We’ll find out when Cheryl Jackson comes on “Public Affairs,” which we hope and anticipate will be soon.

Cheryle Jackson sat for a recent "Seinfeld interview," with Chicago Tonight's Phil Ponce in which he asked no questions about substantive public policy issues. Not one question about bailouts, the economic stimulus program, healthcare, education, taxes, spending, the Iraq or Afghanistan War, trade, abortion or anything substantive. It truly was an interview "about nothing." Maybe Laura Washington needs to write about WTTW having to "bone up on the issues."

Boning up on the issues with Giannoulias

The same questions and doubts raised by Laura Washington about Jackson and the issues extend to State Treasurer Giannoulias. Indeed, even more so. Giannoulias scheduled several appearances on “Public Affairs,” when he was running in the 2006 Democratic Primary for Treasurer, and he cancelled each one. His opponent in that primary, Paul Mangieri, although from downstate, did manage to appear on “Public Affairs.” In the general election in 2006, Senator Radogno, Giannoulias’ opponent, appeared on “Public Affairs,” but Giannoulias was, again, a "no show." And, Giannoulias' reluctance to engage journalists on substantive public policy issues was a pattern, not the exception, in 2006.

Although Giannoulias has essentially been running in the Democratic U. S. Senate Primary for a good chunk of this year, he has not responded to requests to come on “Public Affairs,” and discuss national issues. Nor has he done much of that elsewhere. So far, Giannoulias’ campaign has mostly been about touting his ability to raise money and to get endorsements. He has been a bit thin on substance, unless by that you mean, “Cash on Hand.”

The Obama Senate Seat Test

When then State Senator Barack Obama came on “Public Affairs,” even before he was a U. S. Senate candidate, he argued, “I know the issues, I have a vision and I speak out.” So far, neither Giannoulias nor Jackson has demonstrated he (she) can pass even the first part of the Obama three-part test for his Senate seat.

So, if Laura Washington is going to raise the issue about Cheryle Jackson's knowledge and engagement on public policy issues, she should raise that same issue about 33 year old Alexi Giannoulias. I mean, fair is fair.

Finally, you might be wondering how does either Democratic candidate stack up relative to their likely general election opponent, Cong. Mark Kirk, on the above points? That’s a good question—but, one for another day.