Kapos: Chicago debate legends looking for a Clinton-Trump clash

SHARE Kapos: Chicago debate legends looking for a Clinton-Trump clash

Mark Koulogeorge and Leonard “Lenny” Gail are looking forward to the Clinton-Trump debates. | Shia Kapos/For the Sun-Times

Facts matter, but in a presidential debate a good zinger can decide who wins, say two of the nation’s greatest college debaters.

Chicago businessmen Mark Koulogeorge and Leonard “Lenny” Gail will be among the millions tuning in for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26.

Koulogeorge is co-founder of MK Capital, a $250 million technology venture capital firm, and Gail is founding partner of Massey & Gail, a corporate law firm that counts MK Capital as a client.

Before their successes in business, Koulogeorge and Gail were high school debate rivals.

Gail, the Maine East grad, was more often victorious during their senior year; Glenbrook South’s Koulogeorge and his debate partner won the national competition.

Gail and Koulogeorge then teamed up at Dartmouth College and became a national force, winning the 1984 National Collegiate debating championship. Over two years, they won 22 debates, lost zero. Debate coaches still talk about their accomplishments, even dubbing them the best debate team of the 1980s.

Koulogeorge went on to earn an MBA from Stanford and Gail got a law degree from Harvard. Now in business, they credit debate with much of their successes in life.

With that in mind, they revived a struggling national nonprofit that puts debate programs into under-served communities around the country. The National Association for Urban Debate Leagues is in Chicago too. City Treasurer Kurt Summers is an alum.

Next year, the organization marks its 10th anniversary with a gala in Chicago co-chaired by Koulogeorge and Dr. Bryan Traubert, chairman of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

Koulogeorge and Gail talked about the nuances of debate during an interview over lunch in Greektown.

“In college debate, facts are the only thing that matter. In American politics, how you present your arguments can be as or more important than the actual arguments,” Koulogeorge said.

College debates also call for being super-prepared, though being quick on your feet is important. In a presidential debate, the quick feet are especially important.

“It’s all about the sound bite,” says Gail, ticking off some memorable ones. “There you go again” and “Binders full of women” were catchphrases by Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney in the 1980 and 2012 presidential debates, respectively.

Koulogeorge says he’ll be watching how Clinton and Trump address the issues and who demonstrates “competency, credibility and compassion.”

Gail will be looking for “well-reasoned” and “factually supported” arguments and counter-arguments to opponents’ explanation of facts. “It’s what you call the clash.”

Navy SEAL benefit heading for record $3 million-plus

Reeve Waud | Courtesy of Randy Belice

Reeve Waud | Courtesy of Randy Belice

More than 100 military members and Gold Star families will attend this week’s benefit dinner for the Navy SEAL Foundation. Chicago organizers expect to surpass $3 million, a record for the event.

The foundation supports families of wounded and fallen SEALs. Gold Star families are those who have lost loved ones in war. Their status has gained attention recently as the Muslim American parents of a slain Army soldier spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

“The SEALs are the quiet warriors,” says Reeve Waud, chairman of this year’s event. “You hear their families tell their stories, and there’s not a dry eye around. For them, it was all about doing the right thing.”

Waud also is founder and managing partner of Waud Capital Partners and has long supported military programs.

It was a natural, he says, that he and his wife, Melissa, step up for the SEALs.

The foundation is based in Virginia but has a strong following among Chicago executives. They like the cause, of course, and the foundation’s bottom line. Waud says 94 cents of every dollar goes into programming.

Some 600 guests are expected in all at Wednesday’s event at the Chicago Hilton. In years past, there’s been a rainbow of political and civic persuasions. I’ve seen Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as GOP funder Ron Gidwitz and Democrat donor Michael Sacks.

The $3 million-plus raised this year is a big leap from five years ago when investment manager Muneer Satter hosted a small gathering at his North Shore home to bring awareness to the group. That evening, they raised $150,000.

Melissa Harris joins U. of C.’s entrepreneur center

Melissa Harris

Melissa Harris

Melissa Harris, the former Chicago Tribune columnist who wrote about innovators and innovation, is now helping promote that work.

She’s been named executive-in-residence at University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where she will mentor entrepreneurs and bring attention to their ideas.

After six years writing stories about interesting people in business, Harris says she wanted to be part of the excitement. “I saw people doing really cool things and decided I wanted to do cool things, too.”

She enrolled at U. of C.’s Booth School of Business to take part in its New Venture Challenge, which helps students start businesses. “If your idea doesn’t work, you’ve failed in a supportive and collaborative environment where there’s a high tolerance for experimentation,” she says.

Harris’s idea – determining the best headlines for online stories – didn’t win but she came away from the project committed to being part of the entrepreneurial community.

With an MBA in hand, she led marketing at Origin Investments before landing her new position.

John Flavin, executive director of Polsky center, says Harris’s communication skills will be an asset to entrepreneurs and the center. “Everyone talks about raising capital, but visibility is just as important.”

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.

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