Meet Mike: Right-Winger, Reformer

Quigley Likely to Win Illinois Special Election

Posted March 11, 2009 at 6:22pm

After his victory over a crowded Democratic primary field last week, Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D) received a phone call from an old friend who once served in the Illinois state Senate.

President Barack Obama called to congratulate Quigley on his win in Illinois’ 5th district Democratic primary. Given the district’s heavy Democratic lean, Quigley is all but certain to win the April 7 special election to succeed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in Congress.

“You’ve got to do better than your predecessor,— Quigley recalled Obama telling him over chuckles in the background from someone he surmised could only be Emanuel.

But Quigley has no illusions about what he’s facing if, as is expected, he becomes the 434th Member the House next month. If elected, he will only be able to claim seniority over the winner of the early summer California special election to fill Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ former House seat.

For one, the Democrat said he isn’t even going to try to predict his committee assignments. He said in a phone interview that some Members “smirked— when he expressed his preferences.

“I have no illusion that I will chair the powerful committee or that I will pass major legislation in the first month,— Quigley said.

But if he had his choice, Quigley would probably pick to work on environmental, transportation and tax issues. At home in Chicago, Quigley teaches a class at Loyola University on the environment and local government. And during his 10 years on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, he’s gained a reputation for being a feisty reformer.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who said she has known Quigley for more than a decade in Chicago politics, advised Quigley that being 434th in seniority doesn’t require him to be invisible.

“One of the things I did tell him is that being 434 doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a backbencher,— she said. “If you work hard on your committees and you participate in the Caucus, there’s a lot of room to get things done.—

Nonetheless, Quigley’s got big — or at least famous — shoes to fill in Congress. Before Emanuel, recently impeached former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) held the 5th district seat. Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) occupied the seat for 36 years before that — before going to jail for mail fraud (he was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton).

“Obviously he’s not as high profile as Dan Rostenkowski, Rod Blagojevich or Rahm Emanuel, but I think he’ll be a real workhorse and not a show horse in the Congress,— Schakowsky said. “And that’s what we need right now.—

Quigley said he is seriously considering living in his office at the Capitol. With two daughters in private colleges, he said he is coming to the Capitol to work, not to be part of the Washington social scene.

“Senator [Dick] Durbin’s (D-Ill.) advice was, Work hard here, but work really hard in your district,’— Quigley said.

Kevin Lampe, a Chicago Democratic consultant who has worked with Quigley over the past 15 years, said he’s not surprised that the future Congressman might join the ranks of the lawmakers who camp out in the Capitol.

“He is a workaholic and he is someone who enjoys to work and he’d look at it as a way to save some money too,— Lampe said. “The guys who live in their offices on the Hill, they’re anxious to get home, which is good.—

Lampe added that Quigley is a rare breed of Chicago politician who understands both policy and the city’s famous machine politics. He added that he can see Quigley being comfortable talking to constituents in a local Jewel-Osco grocery store on the weekends, like some of predecessors.

“He is straightforward,— Lampe said. “He is honest to a fault. He knows his stuff. He really learns and really gets into the intricate details of what’s going on. But he can also be a regular guy playing hockey.—

In between being a county commissioner and winning the Democratic nod for Congress, Quigley said he fits in playing ice hockey twice a week. Duing in an interview in his campaign office 10 days before the Democratic special primary, a scrappy Quigley proudly said he plays right wing.

“The irony exists,— he said.