Giannoulias touts womens issues at event Illinois GOP tries to hijack

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The Illinois Republican Party tried to hijack anAlexi Giannoulias Democratic Senate campaign event Thursday, a cutthroat day in the race for President Obama’s former Senate seat.

Two story lines were spawned Thursday in the contest between Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, and GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk.

Story line one: The Giannoulias campaign wanted to generate coverage about family and equal-pay policies and the differences between Kirk and Giannoulias.

Story line two: The Illinois Republican Party — trying to help Kirk — played the bad cop and tried to change the subject by attacking the business owners who hosted the Giannoulias event, digging up tax liens that had been recorded against the company. The gist of the hit was that Illinois is in a financial meltdown and Giannoulias is standing with folks who owe the state taxes.

Pegged to Mother’s Day on Sunday, Giannoulias was flanked by women — and granite samples — as he discussed his support for extending paid family leave at Granite Innovations, 1420 W. Hubbard.

Among those joining Giannoulias at the female-run business were Stephanie Neely, the City of Chicago treasurer, and Robin Kelly, the Democratic nominee for Illinois treasurer — and Giannoulias’ treasurer and office chief of staff. Also in the front of the room was Sandya Dandamudi, the vice president of Granite Innovations, who runs the business with her mother.

Giannoulias also criticized Kirk for not voting in 2009 for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, designed to address gender, age and race discrimination in pay. The Illinois delegation split on party lines over Ledbetter: Kirk and the six other Illinois Republicans voted against the measure; the 11 Illinois Democrats cast yes votes.

Knowing where an opponent is campaigning is high-value political intelligence because it gives opposition researchers a chance to dig up stuff.

The Kirk political campaign to date is a stealth operation; you just don’t know where he is because the campaign refuses to say. The Giannoulias event was flagged to all political reporters covering the race, so his rivals knew his hand.

Three minutes before the noon Giannoulias event started, the Kirk campaign e-mailed a press release headlined, “Kirk jobs plan protects Illinois families,” outlining Kirk’s call for lower taxes. That was the good cop calling.

The Illinois Republican Party lobbed its grenade a few minutes later, e-mailing a statement titled “In Midst of Budget Crisis, State Treasurer Holds Campaign Event with Tax Cheats.”

“Perhaps the State Treasurer could ask his hosts to pay the $26,446 they owe the State of Illinois in back taxes,” said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady.

After the event, Giannoulias was plied with questions over the tax liens. “It is a little disheartening for the GOP to make political attacks on someone’s business,” Giannoulias said.

At issue were 11 state tax liens between 1998 and 2007. In Illinois, a lien can be listed on a public record — and even if it is paid, the records do not always reflect that.

The accountant for Granite Innovations Inc., Les Hunzinger, said the liens had been paid, and given a bit of time, he can get court records to prove there is no debt to the state.

The Giannoulias campaign said in a statement, “Mark Kirk and his Republican allies hit a new low today, spreading an irresponsible, malicious lie in order to smear an Illinois small-business owner in the furtherance of a political agenda,” demanding apologies from Kirk and the GOP.

The Illinois GOP did not return my call. Kirk campaign spokesman Kirsten Kukowski said she had no comment. And this is just May.

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