Alexi Giannoulias may have expected a softball Q&A sessions with supporters, but what he got was far more interesting.
Giannoulias held a Q&A session at Ann Sather’s on Belmont last night, answering queries submitted over Facebook, and written on index cards by audience members. It started off as a softball session -- 16-inch softball at that -- but by the end, Giannoulias was defending himself against audience members angry about immigration and the U.S.’s cozy relationship with Israel.
“So much has been done to dismantle the middle class," said one audience member. "Do you plan to reinstate the middle class and bring jobs back to this country?”
Giannoulias fans will be happy to hear that he answered “Yes.” He does plan to reinstate the middle class and bring jobs back. It gave him a chance to tell the story of how, as state treasurer, he threatened to pull state business from Wells Fargo bank if it liquidated the Hart, Schaffner & Marx factory in Des Plaines.
“My opponent voted against extending unemployment benefits to the most vulnerable,” he said. “In this country, for every available job, there are at least five people applying for that job. Unemployment is the challenge we’ll be facing for the next decade.”
(At this point, a passerby on the sidewalk booed. It wasn’t clear whether she was booing Giannoulias, or the Republican protesters holding signs accusing Giannoulias of mismanaging the state’s Bright Start college fund.)
Another voter asked, “What social issue is your opponent, Mark Kirk, most vulnerable on?”
Giannoulias’s answer: “Congressman Kirk bases his positions completely on which way the political winds are blowing … Here’s a guy who says he’s pro-choice, and then votes for the Stupak Amendment. Here is someone who says he is pro gay rights, and then says, ‘We don’t need Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’”
But then, Giannoulias had to defend his support of Israel’s attack on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Israel can be a tough issue for a Democrat, because leftists see the country as a bully.
“I think there was some disappointment that America was the only country that couldn’t say anything about the flotilla,” said voter Marcia Gustafson. “Most of the world says ‘This was wrong,’ the flotilla killing on the boat.”
Giannoulias blamed the flotilla, not the Israelis, for the incident.
“I would make an argument that the flotilla wasn’t just there to provide basic aid, it was there to provoke action, which is exactly what it did,” he said.
Then Giannoulias got into with a man who believes that granting green cards to foreign workers contributes to unemployment among Americans.
“What differentiates you from Mark Kirk when it comes to bypassing Illinois citizens with foreign workers with green cards?” asked the voter, who identified himself as David.
“We need to make sure we secure our borders, but also, we need to put pressure on employers, to make sure they’re not hiring undocumented workers,” said Giannoulias, who thought he was getting a question about illegal immigration.
“But these are legal -- 75 to 100 thousand legal every month. They’re replacing American workers.”
“They’re not being hired to replace them,” Giannoulias said.
“That’s the effect," came the reply.
“What we’re not talking about is that thousands of jobs are being shipped overseas by giving tax breaks and loopholes to companies,” Giannoulias said.
“They’re coming here to learn our processes so they can ship even more,” the voter argued.
“I do think fundamentally that’s not the reason why unemployment is high in this country and why we continue to lose jobs,” Giannoulias concluded. “I do think it’s a more fundamental problem than just that.”
The Giannoulias campaign filmed Tuesday night’s session, and plans to post the file on its website, spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.