Once a gadfly, now the governor
Once a gadfly, now the governor
Quinn sworn in at 5:02 p.m. to replace Blagojevich
January 29, 2009
BY ABDON PALLASCH Political Reporter
The gadfly is now the governor.
Patrick Quinn, sworn in as governor at 5:02 p.m. today, has been a populist crusader for citizen initiatives in Illinois for more than 40 years.
At one point, he made it all the way up to state treasurer. Then, he was banished to the political wilderness, holding lightly attended Sunday news conferences for his longshot causes.
But against just about all the establishment Democratic Party officials in the state, Quinn narrowly won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2002, creating a shotgun marriage with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who did not want Quinn as his running mate.
They reached an uneasy agreement and ran together twice, setting up today’s unlikely ascendance by Quinn to the state’s highest office.
Just four months ago, Quinn was standing out the outside, protesting, when Blagojevich was the featured speaker at a City Club of Chicago luncheon.
This month, a world later, Quinn was the featured speaker at the City Club. And the man who could not attract reporters to his Sunday news conferences now sold out all 350 seats at the City Club and had 900 more people on a waiting list.
As Quinn, 59, made his way through the parties and balls of President Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., last week, he was mobbed with suddenly infatuated fans who had to have their picture taken with him. The same was true Monday at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition’s Martin Luther King breakfast, where, in years past, he could walk unnoticed.
Quinn says his heart is still in the same place as when he launched his hooray-for-the-little-guy crusades as head of the “Coalition for Political Honesty” in the ’70s.
One of his first major victories, through a citizen referndum, was ending the century-old practice of allowing legislators to collect their full year’s pay on their first day in 1976. In 1980, he succeeded in passing a citizen referendum that cut the size of the Illinois Legislature by one-third.
Quinn was born in Hinsdale in 1948 and graduated from Georgetown University and Northwestern University’s School of Law. He practiced tax law before the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals and was elected a commissioner of that body in 1982. He authored a book, How to Appeal Your Property Taxes . . . Without a Lawyer.
In 1983, he launched another petition drive that resulted in the creation of the Citizens Utility Board, the state’s utility watchdog agency.
Mayor Harold Washington named Quinn revenue director for the city, and Quinn launched a controversial amnesty proposal to get people to pay old parking tickets.
He was elected state treasurer in 1991 but lost a race for secretary of state to George Ryan in 1994.
Plenty of top Democrats, tired of Quinn’s crusades and hoping for favors from Ryan — which many of them got — quietly worked for Ryan over Quinn.
Four years later, Democratic leaders chose DuPage County Coroner Mary Lou Kearns to be their candidate for lieutenant governor. But Quinn crashed their party, and with his higher name recognition, came within 1,500 votes of being the party nominee. In 2002, Quinn was back and this time won the lieutenant governor’s nomination over Joyce Washington, becoming the odd-couple mate with Blagojevich.
Now, Quinn said he plans to take advantage of his chance to champion the cause of the little guy as the state’s top official.
“We can do great things in the next 700 days,” Quinn said. “I plan to fumigate state government.”
Illinois Republicans have argued that Quinn's reputation as a maverick was tarnished when he enthusiastically endorsed Blagojevic and worked for his re-election in 2006, even after many of his alleged misdeeds were known.
"Quinn could have embraced [primary rival] Edwin Eisendath, who was in the primary," said Illinois Republican leader Andy McKenna. "His behavior sent a signal to voters that Rod Blagojevich was OK. I think he had a responsibiity to do more."