The race for Illinois treasurer has largely flown under the radar when compared with other high-profile statewide contests. While the office doesn't have the same appeal as the governor or U.S. Senate, it offers potential for the future. Its current holder, Alexi Giannoulias, is a Democratic favorite for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Roland Burris.
The race for Illinois treasurer has largely flown under the radar when compared with other high-profile statewide contests.
While the office doesn't have the same appeal as the governor or U.S. Senate, it offers potential for the future. Its current holder, Alexi Giannoulias, is a Democratic favorite for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Roland Burris.
Here's a look at who's running for treasurer and why in the Feb. 2 primary election.
About the office
As the state's banker, the treasurer is responsible for investing taxpayer dollars and administering financial programs. It also manages millions of dollars in state and local funds. The post is different than the comptroller, who maintains the state's fiscal accounts and disburses payments from those funds.
The candidates running for the seat this year say they do not approach it as a political springboard, with Giannoulias leaving after just one term to run for the seat in Washington.
But they do see an argument behind merging the comptroller and treasurer's offices.
Democrat Justin Oberman said he could support the merger only if there were significant cost savings. Democrat Robin Kelly would support it as long as the roles of both offices aren't compromised and state money remains secure.
Republican Dan Rutherford sees electronic advancements making that more attractive.
"In today's world, where you have much more efficient auditing, they could both function under one office," he said.
This field is the smallest for the statewide offices with primary races.
Oberman and Robin Kelly are the two Democratic candidates.
Kelly served as Giannoulias' chief of staff since July 2007, and before that was a state lawmaker since 2002 from the Chicago suburbs. Oberman is a Chicago businessman who worked for transportation and homeland security departments in the federal government. His father Marty is a former Chicago alderman.
Oberman originally announced plans to run for lieutenant governor, joining a crowded field that now has more than a dozen candidates. He decided treasurer was a "better fit for my background."
"I really want to apply my private sector expertise to bring investors to Illinois to create jobs," Oberman said. "We really need someone with private sector experience in that job."
Rutherford, a state senator from Chenoa, is running unopposed for the GOP. He lost to Secretary of State Jesse White for that seat in 2006. Scott Summers also is unopposed for the Green Party.
Why they're running
Kelly wants to put her hands-on experience in the treasurer's office to expand businesses and bring in new jobs.
"I love the office," she said "It's a place where we can benefit the citizens."
Oberman sees a need for "fresh leadership" and had a desire to return to public service.
"We need to restore our state's reputation, (and) I think I have something to offer," he said.
Rutherford said he wants the job because he believes voters want "more of a balance of a two-party system."
"I recognize the state's been Democratic, but I think (voters) are saying 'enough is enough,' " he said.
What their issues are
How the office has been managed in recent months is a key issue of contention in the race.
Oberman said his first priority would be to overhaul the Bright Start college savings program. Giannoulias' office came under fire when one of the program's 21 funds lost $150 million from 2008 to 2009. OppenheimerFunds Inc., the company managing that fund, was required to pay $77 million back to account holders after a settlement with Giannoulias in December.
Oberman blamed the financial blunder on "risky investments" made by Giannoulias and staff, including Kelly.
"We have tens of thousands of families around the state (that) can't afford college," he said. "It's totally inadequate and unacceptable."
Kelly responded that Oberman's criticism was based on "misinformation." She said the program's funds were closely watched by her and Giannoulias.
"It's irresponsible to say that we didn't have our eye on the ball," she said.
Kelly says her first priority would be to help state budget woes by developing an overall investment policy in the office, as well as pushing for programs to teach young people how to better manage money through setting and following budgets.
Rutherford says his priorities are to bring in jobs and conduct a business performance audit of the office. He's concerned about having multiple treasurer's offices around Illinois, including in Rockford, Rock Island and Effingham.
"The office of state treasurer is not necessarily one where you need to have a walk-in client base," Rutherford said.
John Guidroz can be reached at (217) 782-6882 or email@example.com.
A look at the candidates for treasurer in the Feb. 2 primary election.
Occupation: Chief of staff for Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias since July 2007
Political Experience: State representative, 38th District from 2003-2007
Issues: budget repair, financial literacy, safe investments
Occupation: Financial consultant
Political Experience: None
Issues: Bright Start overhaul, ethics reform, business growth
Political Experience: State senator; former state representative
Issues: Job creation, reviewing performance in treasurer's office
Political experience: None
Issues: Economic development, money management