The son of Greek immigrants and a member of a banking family, Alexi Giannoulias is a candidate for the Democratic primary in the race for State Treasurer. Although he is only 29, Giannoulias is a formidable opponent—because of his banking experience and the support he is getting from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
Recently, the candid Giannoulias talked with Windy City Times about everything from his qualifications to his views on some LGBT-related issues.
Windy City Times: At the Stonewall Democrats Illinois forum [ on March 1 ] , you sounded off on [ main primary opponent ] Paul Mangieri.
Alexi Giannoulias: Well, you and I can disagree about issues—but don't change depending on your viewer. That's what leadership is about. For someone to get an 'A' rating from the NRA the last time he ran for office and to now say he doesn't know how he feels about gun laws—and for someone to answer in a VoteSmart questionnaire that he was against civil unions and to now ... . It's fine to change your mind, but what if he changes his mind again after he's elected? Or do you want someone who says the same message no matter where he goes? I'm progressive and that's just who I am. I am what I am.
WCT: So are you concerned about any backlash from Downstate?
AG: No. I think that people, at the end of the day, have a certain amount of respect for your way of thinking and your conviction. If we're talking about one of six constitutional offices, they're looking for conviction.
WCT: What's your biggest advantage and your biggest disadvantage?
AG: That's easy. My biggest advantage is that this is a fiscal office and I'm a banker and a financial manager. The state treasurer is responsible for investing $12 billion—and you want someone who's [ invested ] before. My opponent may be a nice guy, but he's more qualified to be an attorney general.
My parents founded Broadway Bank; over the past four years, we've more than doubled in asset size. I'm senior loan officer and vice president, so I oversee a $600 million loan department. I'm also chief investment officer and invest about $150 million.
Biggest disadvantage? I don't know ... my last name? [ Laughs ] Well, I'm not the party's slated candidate. I don't see any substantive disadvantages.
While we're being candid, one of the concerns I've heard about myself is that I look a little fresh. Again, I go back to my experience. I graduated cum laude with a degree in economics from Boston University and I graduated from Tulane University School of Law. I also have banking and investment experience. We have the No. 1 bank in Illinois for the past four years based on returned assets. However, being fresh is a good advantage; people like to see someone with a fresh perspective regarding fiscal and social issues.
WCT: Talk a little about education. Didn't [ current State Treasurer and Republican gubernatorial candidate ] Judy Baar Topinka start a college fund?
AG: Yes; she started Bright Start. I was the only candidate who called for an audit of this $1.6 billion trust fund. It hasn't had a widescale audit since its inception to see how the fund is performing.
WCT: What do you think of the job Topinka has done?
AG: I don't think she's done a bad job, but I think she's left a lot of opportunities on the table. There's Bright Start, which needs an audit. I would like to see more done with community investments, also. I think she's done an adequate job but it would help to have someone with investment experience there to bolster performance.
WCT: What's the AG Foundation?
AG: It's just a non-profit corporation that I founded to help with everything from disaster recovery efforts to children's illnesses. Frankly, there hasn't been much fundraising; it's mostly been my money.
WCT: Talk to me about the impact you say Barack Obama has had on you.
AG: Oh, he's had a tremendous impact. He's an inspiration figure and I've been able to see the impact he's had on people; he's motivated people who've never been involved in public service to do something. He has no hidden agenda. He's about getting the job done. People see his genuineness and his abilities. I'd like to have some of his attributes.
WCT: Let's talk about a couple LGBT-related issues. Where do you stand on same-sex marriages and civil unions?
AG: I'm 100 percent behind civil unions. As for same-sex marriages, I personally have no problem with it but, politically, I don't think the support is there for it. I hope I don't sound evasive; I'd rather be honest than misleading.
WCT: Regarding the Stonewall Democrats Illinois's endorsements, were you surprised?
AG: What was the outcome?
WCT: Both you and Mangieri were highly rated.
AG: He was highly rated? That [ result ] is very troubling. I can tell you firsthand; I've traveled with him throughout the state.
I'm not saying they made a right or wrong decision. People hear someone and they only have a few minutes to make a decision.
WCT: What do you have in conclusion, besides 'vote for me?'
AG: I really think we need a financial manager in this office—someone who'll be a fiscal watchdog for people. The state treasurer is responsible for protecting and investing people's money, and that's what I do.
See www.AlexiForIllinois.com .