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03/04/2010

Broadway's Burning!

  When I lived in California many years ago, I frequently read about forestry officials who used a technique they called the "controlled burn" to prevent wildfires.  They would send crews into the most parched areas to actually ignite acres of dried vegetation with the idea that its easier to put out a smaller, controlled fire than to fight a larger, out-of-control blaze.

  The campaign strategists for Alexi Giannoulias are using their version of the political controlled burn to tamp down the Broadway Bank "scandal".  If its going to be an issue in the Illinois U.S. Senate race, the Giannoulias braintrust wants the debate to happen now, eight full months before the November election and on their terms.

  After republican Mark Kirk blasted the Illinois Treasurer Monday for "reckless and risky" practices when Giannoulias was chief loan officer at his family's Broadway Bank between 2002 and 2006, the democrat went on a Wednesday media blitz.  There were one-on-one interviews with ABC-7 and other Chicago television stations, sessions with the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and another sit-down with reporters from Crain's Chicago Business.

  Both daily newspaper accounts said Giannoulias had resigned himself to Broadway's failure sometime in the next few weeks or months.  But everywhere, the candidate insisted the bank was in good financial shape when he resigned in 2006 and that Broadway, like thousands of other community banks around the country, suffered when the nation's commercial and residential real estate markets collapsed. 

  After the first on-line and broadcast reports appeared Wednesday afternoon, the Kirk campaign countered with stories alleging the democratic nominee had misled reporters and left unanswered questions about loans the Broadway Bank allegedly made to suspected organized crime figures.  They also charged that Giannoulias and other family members took nearly $70 million out of the bank shortly before its financial troubles became an issue for regulators.

  As reporters' Blackberries chirped with dispatches from one side or another, the Broadway Bank controversy appeared to have reached full fury.  If the 30 year old bank should be declared insolvent in the next few weeks or months, the controversy surely will flame anew.  But even then, much of it will be re-hash unless some person or document sufaces to link Broadway's former chief loan officer to a questionable or shady deal.

  The "controlled burn" strategy is not new.  Barack Obama used a version of it during his 2008 presidential run when his campaign intentionally inflamed a smoldering controversy surrounding remarks by his former pastor the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  Remember Obama's speech in Philadelphia that spring to address Wright's remarks and his separation from the minister a few days later?  Oh, what a media feeding frenzy!

  By September, after Obama won the nomination and the campaign against John McCain was in full swing, despite attempts by conservative republicans to rekindle the Wright controversy, the mainstream media had no interest.  The reverend was "old news".

  The Giannoulias camp wants Broadway Bank to be a old story around the same time in 2010. 

  They're convinced that if by then Mark Kirk is talking about other issues, such as jobs and the economy, they'll have the congressman exactly where they want him.

  We'll see.




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