Giannoulias passes, Quinn flunks with these high school students

11 Oct

By Jennifer Schanz

While both gubernatorial incumbent Pat Quinn and Illinois state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias came dressed for the press, their back to back addresses at the recent Mikva Challenge Candidates Forum in Chicago proved one thing for the high school student audience: the Democratic Party of Illinois has two faces, and one is prettier than the other.

Joining gubernatorial candidates Bill Brady, Rich Whitney, Scott Lee Cohen stand-in Baxter Swilley and U.S. Senate candidate LeAlan Jones, the two Democrats took to the stage to discuss education funding, violence prevention, immigration, environmental concerns and corruption reform in front of inner city youth.

While their stances on most issues align, according to audience response, with regards to their charismatic rhetoric, Quinn and Giannoulias appeared to have nothing else in common.

Speaking on heavily weighted topics like public education funding, Quinn dodged questions by responding with his administration’s accomplishments in other areas, while an energetic and quick-witted Giannoulias, who will face Mark Kirk and LeAlan Jones in November for a position in the U.S. Senate, gave direct responses, deemed far more engaging by Mikva students’ account.

After prefacing the topic of education with “I’m the only candidate here who believes in education” while pointing out Brady’s education budget cuts, 17-year-old Proviso High School student Belinda Sanchez was less than impressed with the current governor’s response to her question on why Quinn’s employees received raises last year when public schools were lacking adequate school supplies.

“He skipped around my question. He didn’t give me an answer,” the high school junior said. And she wasn’t the only one who viewed Quinn’s speech as lackluster.

Harlan High School junior Toccara Hayes, 16, said in unison with two of her classmates “We want to see action” with regards to Quinn’s response on how he plans to make public schools healthier environments, to which he encouraged students to “walk more,” citing his Walk Across Illinois initiative.

Following Quinn’s brief speech, Giannoulias began his address recalling the struggles and lessons he learned early about the “American Dream,” being a child of Greek immigrants.

When asked whether or not his humble roots help to connect him on a more intimate level with students, Giannoulias responded with “Yes, maybe it does. I was fortunate to have had the parents I did. I want these kids to know that you really can achieve anything in this country.”

Giannoulias lingered to shake hands with students who asked him questions during the forum, getting the phone number and email of a student who expressed the struggle of living in a low-income household. In contrast to his fellow party member, Quinn left immediately after his address, following a brief thank you to Mikva organizers and students.

Students were given the opportunity to grade each candidate as a measure of which platforms they support and would want to campaign for. Their verdict? Based on audience response, the State Treasurer is carrying the state Dems in student approval.

Whether it was the 34-year-old’s youthful zest, or candid nature, in the eyes of Mikva students, Giannoulias joined the democratic A-team, alongside Barack Obama as a politician capable of motivating the city’s youth with engaging rhetoric.

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