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Giannoulias takes Library Board seat, but won’t promise not to seek office again

Former Illinois state treasurer and losing U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias on Tuesday was confirmed as a member of the Chicago Public Library Board. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias returned to public life Tuesday — with an appointment to the Chicago Public Library Board — and showed why his fellow Democrats consider him to be such a straight-shooter in spite of past controversies.

It happened when Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) asked Giannoulias to promise not to seek political office in Chicago for two years.

Sposato is hell-bent on preventing mayoral appointees to the city’s boards and commissions from doing what Lori Lightfoot did: using her role as Police Board president as a springboard to challenge the mayor who appointed her.

The alderman has even promised to introduce what he calls the “Lightfoot rule” in ordinance form.

Giannoulias disappeared from public life after losing the 2010 race for the U.S. Senate by fewer than 60,000 votes to Republican Mark Kirk.

He’s happy in private life. He has no plans to run for anything in the near future. But, he’s not about to make

a Lyndon Johnson-like, lock-the-door, swallow-the-key promise not to seek public office for the next two years that he just might regret.

“I always hated politicians and people who are ambitious saying, `I’m not gonna do this. I would never do this.’ And the next day, you read on the front page that they’re running for something or, `I’m only gonna run for two terms,’ then they change their mind,” Giannoulias said.

“I can tell you pretty strongly that I have no ambitions of running for anything. My life is pretty busy. I couldn’t be happier. But, if somewhere down the road something comes up, most likely, no. But it would be irresponsible for me to make a commitment.”

Giannoulias is senior director of BNY Mellon Wealth Management. He is a close friend of Emanuel, former President Barack Obama and David Axelrod, who worked together with Emanuel in the Obama White House.

After a confirmation hearing that was more like a lovefest, Giannoulias said he was “surprised at how nice everybody was.”

The former treasurer said he was “nervous” that aldermen might bring up past controversies that dogged his political career about loans made by his family-owned bank.

As for his new role on the Library Board, Giannoulias said he has some innovative ideas about changes the libraries can make to stay relevant in the internet age. But he wants to get a few meetings under his belt before going public with those ideas.

“I’m innovative. But I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I want to be respectful of the board,” said the father of two young children.

Giannoulias said one of the biggest challenges he envisions is letting people know how much their library system has “changed already.”

“Most people have forgotten about Chicago Public Libraries. They’re on their smart phones all day. They just Google everything,” Giannoulias said.

“How do we convince them that you can get a fishing rod at the library? You can talk to a teacher there. You can meet up with friends, discuss books and have book clubs. There’s a lot of opportunities [for growth and relevance]. But, times have changed. We have to change with them.”