Ill. Senate candidates spar as race heats up

SEIU endorses Giannoulias
September 25, 2009 5:13:03 AM PDT
The vote in Washington to extend unemployment benefits took center stage in the race for the United States Senate in Illinois on Thursday.In a state where the jobless rate hovers in the neighborhood of 10 percent, political candidates watch each other like hawks when it comes to positions they take on issues related to unemployment. And when they don't take a position for whatever reason the campaign knives come out.

As he was endorsed on Thursday morning by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the state's largest labor union, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias took a shot at Republican U.S. Senate front-runner Mark Kirk. The North Shore congressman missed the House vote in Washington Tuesday when the chamber approved the extension of unemployment benefits to jobless Americans. "This was a very important vote for the American people and Mark Kirk didn't show up," said Giannoulias.

"To miss this vote, he had a real opportunity to show that he stands for working folks. I think was a big mistake," said Tom Balanoff , SEIU.

In a statement to the House speaker, Kirk said, "I was unavoidably detained. Had I been present, I would have voted for this legislation." Then on Kirk's behalf, the Republican National senatorial committee waded in, noting that three Chicago Democrats, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Bobby Rush and Luis Gutierrez also missed the vote.

Mayor Richard M. Daley, who wants the Senate to pass the bill as soon as possible, had words for all the absent lawmakers.

"Washington is isolated from the rest of the world. They've always said that, isolated from the rest of the country, and many times they have to realize that big problem is jobs," said Daley.

One of Kirk's opponents in the Republican primary, conservative businessman Patrick Hughes opposes the unemployment benefit extension, calling it too expensive and suggested the moderate Kirk intentionally avoided the vote for political reasons.

"My sense is that this is someone who acts like a politician, who does things based on political aspirations and not in what he truly believes in," said Hughes.

As the politicians went back and forth, the daily crowd swelled to standing room inside a Pilsen neighborhood unemployment office.

"You have thousands of people and only a few jobs, you need a stadium just for one job position to have everybody fill it out at one time," said Lorenzo Amaro, unemployed veteran.

Also, on the Senate campaign trail on Thursday, Republicans criticized Democrat Giannoulias for accepting the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union which during past campaigns supported indicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The union called the criticism "a stretch".


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