CHICAGO (AP) — Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias describes himself as someone with the judgment and guts to make his own decisions, even if it means standing up to people with more experience. But when pressed Monday on decisions that turned into political liabilities, Giannoulias often passed the buck.
His family bank doing business with criminals? Someone else handled that, Giannoulias explained in an interview with The Associated Press, and the loans met all the technical requirements. And the loan to shady political insider Antoin "Tony" Rezko? Giannoulias said he wasn't handling loans by that point and no one at his bank asked his opinion.
What about his state treasurer's office putting money into a troubled investment fund? That's what the financial experts assured him was the best move, Giannoulias said.
Still, the 34-year-old Chicago Democrat insisted he would be an independent voice if elected to the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
In an hour-long interview with the AP, Giannoulias said he has been willing to disagree with party leaders and take politically risky positions. As examples, he offered his support for same-sex marriage and for a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the site of the New York City terrorist attacks.
He also said Obama made a mistake by focusing so heavily on overhauling health care over the past two years, after underestimating the Republican opposition he would face after being elected president.
Giannoulias refused to publicly repeat his campaign's accusation that Republican opponent Mark Kirk is a liar. In fact, Giannoulias said the longtime congressman isn't a bad guy.
He also said he remains "very, very proud" of Broadway Bank, which was founded by his father but went out of business earlier this year.
Kirk has made the bank a major issue. His campaign labels Giannoulias a "failed mob banker" because the bank went under and it issued some loans to Rezko, who was later convicted of shaking down people who wanted to do business with the state, and to people tied to organized crime.
Kirk also has criticized Giannoulias, the state treasurer, over a college-savings program that lost money in one of its investment options. Part of the "Bright Start" program lost about $150 million, although Giannoulias recovered about half of that from the firm overseeing the investments.
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