Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias on Monday stood before the same phalanx of Chicago news media and at the same podium in the State of Illinois Building where Rod Blagojevich had recently stood.
Giannoulis stood there to defend the use of state money from a flailing college investment fund that his office manages to buy a $26,000 SUV for his office. Rod Blagojevich stood there to defend his appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate.
Both attempted to defend the indefensible. Bad decisions.
In Blagojevich's case, he had no choice. He had just appointed Burris to the scandal-tarred-and-feathered Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama. Blagojevich had no "retrospect factor" available to justify his decision. He was in the here-and-now. And Blagojevich is undeniably a goof.
In Giannoulias' case, he had a choice. He had a "retrospect factor." And Giannoulias is undeniably bright. He could have said the purchase of the vehicle was a "boneheaded move" and the absence of a vehicle-use log was an even more "boneheaded move." Admitting to boneheaded decisions has credibility with the press and public. We all make them. We move on. But no.
Instead Giannoulias decided to aggravate his public relations problem. Like Blagojevich, Giannoulias attempted to defend a decision -- the SUV's purchase -- with the typical political patter of rationalizations.
"What I think is important here to understand is that this is a vehicle used by Bright Start marketers to travel the state and talk about the program," Giannoulias said, as quoted by the Chicago Tribune's Monique Garcia at his press conference. "I think it's something that over the long term would be a good investment."
Blah, blah, blah.
Giannnoulias' statement may indeed be true, but the public hears only platitudes. Giannoulias is talking to a deeply -- crater deep -- cynical Illinois public regarding its political leaders. And the public is always cynical regarding politicians and their government cars. Political PR 101. Giannoulias has received piss-poor public relations advice from his current handlers.
The public is innately suspicious when politicians purchase cars with government money. They think they'll be tooling around town on the taxpayer dime, figuratively flipping them the bird. And Giannoulis defended the SUV purchase without any vehicle log to prove that its use was "all business" on behalf of the Bright Start college savings program, a program which has lost $85 million under controversial circumstances.
Giannoulias, who has raised more than $1 million for an expected campaign for Burris' senate seat and has generated political momentum towards his political goal, is exacerbating a public relations fiasco. It's a fiasco because a boneheaded answer to a $26,000 SUV purchase may trump the $1 million campaign war chest and blunt the political momentum -- and perhaps derail it.
And that's too bad. Giannoulias is no Blagojevich. This could have been avoided.