Notes from a political debate: Kirk, Giannoulias and Jaws

31 Oct

By Christine Hurley and Courtney Sturgeon

Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias answer questions from Phil Ponce during the Oct. 28 debate in Chicago. (Photo by Courtney Sturgeon)

Political debates. Love ’em or leave ’em, they can be equal parts information and entertainment.

Last week’s third and final U.S. Senate debate between Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias, sponsored by the City Club of Chicago, scored in both categories. And, if you had total access, there was a lot more that didn’t meet the public eye.

Here some random notes, observations from two who did have access:

• On the way to the forum, you could run into Jaws. Yes, the shark from the 1975 film Jaws made an appearance outside the WTTW studios. The Illinois’ GOP has been sending a man dressed as a shark to follow Giannoulias. “Alexi it’s Jaws, we miss you in Miami,” read the shark’s sign. Music from the shark’s radio was blasting when WTTW security asked him to leave the premises. The shark was a reference to alleged mobster Michael “Jaws” Giorango, loaned millions by Giannoulias’s Broadway Bank.

• City Club members and guests were ushered to the basement of WTTW studios. As everyone walked in, each was asked if he or she was a supporter of either candidate—special seating was reserved for them in the front rows.

• Phil Ponce moderated the event. When he took his seat for a lighting check, he coifed his hair. The station’s Elizabeth Bracket came onto set. She wanted to clarify that the candidate forum was not a debate, but more of a conversation.

• There were about 65 people in the audience, including Ald. Margaret Laurino of the 39th Ward.

• Kirk was the first candidate on the set. He came out with a smile and gave Ponce a handshake. Giannoulias emerged with a scowl and seemed to carry a lot of tension, biting his lower lip while Ponce and Kirk were talking.

• The press was allowed in the studio after make-up touches had been done and lighting checks were completed. Giannoulias brightened.

• Ponce began strong and attempted to keep the candidates on topic. Pivot points were used by both candidates to avoid answering questions directly. Giannoulias first used this technique when asked about his knowledge of criminal involvement with his family’s Broadway Bank.

• As the forum continued, it became clear that Ponce was losing control. Giannoulias was noticeably agitated by Kirk, and having difficulty allowing Kirk to finish a statement. He interrupted Kirk multiple times; Kirk asked Ponce for assistance. “You want to moderate this Phil,” he said. “I don’t want to smother two intelligent people,” was Ponce’s response.

• Giannoulias made several statements about how his campaign is going positive for the campaign’s duration. The final time he said it, members of the audience laughed.

• The forum ended with Ponce asking the candidates why they think voters do not trust them. He was unable to finish his question before the producer yelled clear. Giannoulias commented that this was a good way to end. Both candidates and audience members laughed.

• Away from the blinding lights of Chicago Tonight’s stage, more than a dozen anxious reporters in a dimly lit corridor were eager to speak with the candidates.

• Kirk quickly left the studio and hurried to the press room; Giannoulias took his time leaving, shaking hands and giving hugs to people.

• Some City Club members and their guests stood on a set of stairs behind the camera crews using smartphones and digital cameras to take pictures of the scene.

Mark Kirk fields questions from reporters after the Oct. 28 debate at WTTW studios in Chicago. (Photo by Courtney Sturgeon)



















• Unlike the structured flow of Ponce, questions flew through the air and more strike out anytime Kirk took a breath to continue. Kirk was very friendly with the reporters and insisted on answering a few more questions even after his campaign manager said he was finished. He dodged answering about being shot at during his time in the military.

• Members of the media became restless waiting for Giannoulias to come out after Kirk left. “He’s gone, you can bring him in now,” shouted one journalist.

• As if making sure the two contenders didn’t dare cross paths after a battle in the ring, Giannoulias approached from a different entrance with his entourage. He stayed focused on his talking points, and some reporters began to sigh.

• Standing before a backdrop of the city skyline and WTTW logo, Giannoulias was faced with bright lights and noisy shutters. Opening with a joke, Giannoulias said, “okay now, I’m only answering one question.” Light chuckles break the silence before a barrage of requests for comment.

• Giannoulias was on the defensive with questions from reporters looking for answers to the questions they felt he sidestepped during the debate. One reporter squeezes in a final question: “Do you feel you addressed the issue about your bank?” Giannoulias ends his last question with a simple one word answer, “yes.”

• A campaign manager ended the Q&A, and ushered Giannoulias out. It was clear he had become annoyed with the questioning.

Alexi Giannoulias fields follow-up questions from reporters after the Oct. 28 debate in Chicago. (Photo by Courtney Sturgeon)

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