Ethics has been the number one issue surrounding the leading Democratic candidates in the Illinois Secretary of State’s race, and Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia and former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias exchanged barbs during a heated forum on Thursday in Chicago.
The forum, hosted by the Union League Club, invited three of the Democratic contenders running to replace Jesse White this fall, but the spotlight was firmly on Valencia and Giannoulias as they continued their long-running war of words over ethics concerns that both candidates have been working to address during the campaign.
Valencia has faced criticisms over emails she’s sent from her official City Hall account to her husband, who is a lobbyist pursuing government contracts in numerous states, including in Illinois.
“There’s growing pains in office, and I’ve gone through it very publicly,” she said.
Valencia was forced to amend her statements of financial interests after questions raised by NBC 5 Political Reporter Mary Ann Ahern.
Under Illinois law, Valencia must list any companies that do business with the city that her spouse received compensation in excess of $5,000 from, and she initially did not list Monterrey Security, a company with clout-heavy city contracts.
Valencia’s husband also represented a company that received a contract to ramp up internet speeds in New Orleans, but the company was forced to withdraw amid allegations of contract-rigging. The company, Ignite Cities, also sought a contract with the Illinois Medical District.
In both cases, Valencia wrote emails from her city account on behalf of her husband’s clients, according to reporting done by WCIA.
Giannoulias has repeatedly criticized Valencia for not being more transparent about her husband’s lobbying work.
“She’s currently married to someone who lobbies the city of Chicago that she serves, and yet she says that if she’s elected, she says she won’t (vouch for him) then,” he said.
Giannoulias, who served as Illinois Treasurer from 2007 to 2011 and ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2010, is facing his own ethics questions, with Valencia criticizing his handling of the Bright Start Scholarship Program during his tenure in office.
“My opponent wants to distract from his 10 years of being MIA, and then popping up to run,” she said. “We’re not pushing on his ethics of losing (money) from Bright Start.”
Giannoulias was overseeing the program when one of the funds involved in the Bright Start program, known as Core Plus, began experiencing heavy financial losses. The fund ultimately lost more than $150 million through risky investments made by the fund’s manager, although Giannoulias and former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan negotiated a settlement for $77 million from Oppenheimer to repay the lost funds.
The former treasurer’s handling of Bright Start was one of the primary criticisms lobbed against him in 2010 when he ran for the Senate, ultimately losing his race to former Sen. Mark Kirk.
Valencia has also criticized Giannoulias for the failure of Broadway Bank, which was run by his family and founded by his father. The bank failed following the Great Recession in 2010.
“I could not be more proud of the community bank my father started in 1979, helping tens of thousands of people achieve the American dream. Like a record number of banks in the Great Recession, we didn’t make it through,” Giannoulias said in response to the criticisms.
As the pair continue to snipe at one another, Ald. David Moore, also running for the position, says that their ethics concerns could hurt the party in November if they want to retain the Secretary of State position.
“It’s going to be a disaster come the November election, and in order for us to keep this seat, we need someone who has a service heart and doesn’t have an ethical challenge,” he said.