By Michael Tarm
CHICAGO — The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois raised the specter of Chicago gangster Al Capone on Monday in calling on the federal government to become more involved in fighting modern-day street gangs nationwide.
Mark Kirk appeared with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in Chicago, where both men endorsed legislation that would provide $20 million for a national anti-gang task force.
The federal government should exert the same focus toward breaking up street gangs that it exerted in helping to bring down Capone nearly a century ago, said Kirk, who is running for President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Kirk faces Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and other candidates in November.
One of the proudest periods in Chicago history, the five-term U.S. congressman added, "was the coordinated effort to take out Al Capone. And now we should have a coordinated effort to take out the Latin Kings and Vice Lords."
Giuliani, also a one-time federal prosecutor, said greater federal involvement would provide more leverage not only to put gang members in prison longer but to seize their assets and ruin them financially.
"(It's) a national problem that hasn't received the kind of national attention it deserves," he said.
Some gangs, such as the Latin Kings, have more than 20,000 members and a presence in more than 150 U.S. cities. All the gang members in the United States combined "would equal some of the largest armies on Earth," Kirk said.
In a Monday statement, Giannoulias spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said Kirk supported a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Chicago's handgun ban _ a ruling she said has made it even easier for gangs to get guns.
"Congressman Kirk's exaggerations and embellishments continue today with his latest claim that he, a 20-year Washington insider and incumbent Congressman, has a strong law enforcement background," she said.
Kirk's campaign said only that he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms as well as "sensible measure to reduce gun violence."
The issue of street gangs is a timely one in Chicago.
Jody Weis, Chicago's police chief, drew criticism for meeting with reputed gang leaders in August. At the gathering, he told them that if gangs don't stop killings, police will come after the leaders themselves.
Other cities have touted the tactic, saying meeting with and pressuring gang leaders has brought killings down. But critics said it was inappropriate the city's top cop to met with gang leaders, no matter the circumstances.
Speaking at the news conference with Giuliani, Kirk said he wasn't a fan of police sitting down with gang leaders.
"Totally ineffective," he said. "I would have minimal hopes for such a dialogue."
Kirk and Giuliani are both moderates on social issues. But Giuliani is known for cracking down on crime and guiding New York through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His support could help Kirk among voters concerned about crime.
Giuliani was also in Illinois to stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, who is taking on incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
In Bloomington, in southern Illinois, Giuliani spoke to about 500 people at a fundraiser for Brady, saying he and Brady shared a commitment to lowering taxes and improving the business environment.
"I'm very excited about the chance we have to put Illinois in the right column," Giuliani added about prospects of Brady unseating Quinn, The Pantagraph in Bloomington reported.
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Copyright 2010 Associated Press