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Quigley: Chairman of the Board?
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 2872 times since Wed Jul 13, 2005
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Pictured Commissioner Quigley at the HRC gala Saturday night. Photo by Tracy Baim

During his two terms as a Cook County Board commissioner, Mike Quigley, D-10th District, has distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate on everything from fiscal streamlining to environmental preservation to gay rights. Recently, Quigley announced his intention to run in the March 2006 primary race for Cook County Board president, becoming the first Democrat to do so. Since that time, Forrest Claypool has also indicated he will run for the post. Republican Tony Peraica, a first-term county commissioner who hails from Riverside, also is running. And incumbent John Stroger, a longtime Democrat, has not said yet whether he will seek reelection.

Quigley stopped by the Windy City Times office, where he talked about ( among other things ) his move into politics, lessons he has learned, his close relationship with former 44th Ward Ald. Bernie Hansen and his sometimes contentious relationship with Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan.

Windy City Times: Tell us how you got involved in politics.

Mike Quigley: I got into politics because I was ( and still am ) an environmentalist. I was meeting with Terry Cosgrove and Betty Lou Saltzman and had an epiphany: In the end, I am what I am because I started as an environmentalist.

In high school, my sister had given me a book about population issues as they relate to the environment—and it scared the hell out of me. I didn't know what to do; I didn't know if I wanted to be a forest ranger [ or something else ] . Now, I teach [ a course on ] politics and the environment at Loyola [ Law School ] . When you get down to fundamentals ... I have 50 students and I try to get them wound into this thing so you tie them to the interests they have. So Bush's first act in office nationally was to cut funding for family planning programs in the Third World—which is like saying 'We're not going to help you anymore and we're going to cut out your legs from underneath you.' In the end, the moral issues behind caring about the environment make you care about justice and equity. It deals with the issues of exploitation and feminism; there's actually a whole new group of thought called ecofeminism.

Then, my sister weighs in again and gets me my first job in Chicago; it's with the Salvation Army lodge that used to be on Wisconsin Street. It was a lodge for battered women and had a day camp during the summer. Besides the extraordinarily eye-opening aspects of it, a third of the kids were from Cabrini, a third were children of the women in the lodge and a third were from the neighborhood—so all I did was break up fights. [ Chuckles. ]

I struggled through college; I put myself through Beloit Community College and finally through Roosevelt University, which offered me an internship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ... [ The internship ] happened at the end of [ the ] Carter [ administration ] . Then Reagan came along and fired all the temporary and part-timers in the federal government and I was gone.

I got brought back and our unit changed. We were into air planning so I helped communities with bike paths [ as well as ] inspection and maintenance—less noxious ways for them to reduce their air pollution. We then became regulatory reformers, which I discovered involved helping people circumvent the Clean Air Act. It was the first job I had that had benefits and that paid something.

However, I quit this job—to the shock and dismay of my parents—and went to work for a guy named Glenn Schneider in the suburbs. He was a state rep candidate back when we had the 'bullet vote.' At this time, [ politician Mike ] Madigan was trying to become Speaker of the House and he actually funded that campaign—and, therefore, me. We lost that race.

Madigan sent me around and put me in touch with a couple of people who were running— [ Jane ] Byrne and [ Richard M. ] Daley. Byrne, Daley and Harold's [ Washington ] people hadn't started running yet but I was told that they weren't hiring anyone. I had decided that I didn't want to get involved in the mayoral race because Glenn Schneider was close with Harold.

So I figured I'd work in the aldermanic race and that's where I met Bernie [ Hansen, in 1983 ] . I was really torn. I went to the first meeting with Bernie and met his opponent ... an MBA from DePaul and pretty sensitive and articulate. We went to this meeting in Schiller Park ... they didn't ask him a single question; they're very polite. With Bernie—they all knew his name and he knew theirs—it was like 'They didn't get my garbage yesterday.' Bernie was like 'Helen ... third house off the alley, green gate? They had it locked and they couldn't get your can out.' So after a half hour of this, [ Hansen opponent ] and I are looking at each other because it was apparent that we were the only two people in the room who didn't know that he wasn't getting any votes in that neighborhood—which is exactly what happened.

There are times I look back; I realize that it was that evolution that made me exactly what I am. I was going to the University of Chicago and getting a Master's in public policy. Talk about shock; they teach you policy analysis using calculus and models. To this day, what I learned there was still more valuable in terms of crafting legislation than went I went to law school. [ You acquire ] this arsenal of skills: accounting, economics, budgeting, statistics, and so forth. [ Quigley graduated from the University of Chicago in 1985 and from Loyola Law School in 1989. ]

WCT: Was it in 1987 when you first ran?

MQ: It was in '91. In '90, I had a zillion ideas about ethics and I had great position papers. When I first realized that it would be a problem running against Helen [ Shiller ] was when John Kass wrote a column in the Chicago Tribune. I brought him all these position papers. Kass—in his typical relaxed, dignified way—said ' [ Forget ] this. It's about the machine versus the independents. This is Daley against the opposition.' I should've been smart enough to recognize that and I wasn't. But what hurt me most was that both sides were lost on the fact that I was independent and passionate.

WCT: But you do understand where that came from. [ During that time, ] all that came out was that you were from Hansen's office ...

MQ: Oh, yeah—and to this day I still live with that. We've all grown and evolved; I don't look back at it as a bad thing.

WCT: What about how it related to the [ Ron ] Sable races in '87 and '91? Those races were pretty contentious, especially with gays who backed Hansen versus those who backed Sable. What role did you play in Hansen's campaign?

MQ: Certainly in '91 I was busy with my own campaign. In '87—and you're right—there was a split [ among ] big names. I think the community was evolving and I think I was. I'm no Lincoln, but you're a moving target ... The greatest statespeople we've had when they were 25 were not the people they were at 40 or 60.

WCT: How do you think your relationship with Shiller is now?

MQ: I think it's really good. Helen's evolved, too. She used to say 'Uptown healthcare ... you must keep it open. It's a commitment to the people there.' And I would say 'It is, but you don't want the city running public health. In a modern-day world, a healthcare clinic should be a hospital.' We met in the middle on that. She's also softened her tone on development.

Look, you're naive to walk into that, not recognizing that campaigns are sound bites. I'd like to think that I was sensitive to needs but my naivete created an insensitivity. I tell people what Charlotte [ Newfeld ] said: 'You always control your own destiny.' The bottom line is that I learned that I was in a roller coaster and not a car. There was no steering wheel.

WCT: The vote was close.

MQ: Oh, the primary was real close. She underestimated me. I lost 21 pounds [ during the campaign ] and I was only 138 to start. I almost killed myself. For all the abuse I took for being the bad guy ... I got pushed off the Wilson Avenue el onto the tracks. I had two cops living with me the last two weeks [ before the election ] . It was extraordinarily painful—but you know what? [ Something ] positive came from it and I think it built a lot of friendships. On the night of my election I said, 'To those who want to harbor animosity and not go forward and work with the aldermen, go out the door now.'

I ended up redistricting back into the 44th Ward; I was beyond broke. Two weeks later, I went to Helen and said 'I meant it; let's work together.' She skeptically said yes, we endorsed each other—and I know we're friends [ now ] . I took a lot of heat endorsing her but I thought I was right.

There were a lot of environmental bills and ordinances that I gave to Sara [ Feigenholtz ] and [ John ] Cullerton to pass that would've been mine. I go back to Kass now and asked, 'Do you still think I was an independent?' He still thinks, 'You're this Hansen guy.'

We were at the [ Center on Halsted ] groundbreaking the other day and they acknowledge Bernie for [ helping with ] the first round of money and ... Bernie moved and helped a lot of people in the way Bernie could. People forget that he could talk to aldermen that others could not. Bernie had extraordinary value.

When I ran in '97 [ for the '98 race ] , Sara was talking with Judy Erwin and Judy didn't like ... the others. Judy was like, 'Mike's the streets and sanitation guy who was with Bernie' and Sara was like, 'No, he has a Master's in public policy and he doesn't wear it on his sleeve.' So Judy came on board and Jesse White came on board right away.

A lot of people didn't want me to run. Family and friends didn't because the last race ended in a personal catastrophe—including debt, debt, debt. But I just burned for a chance; honest to God, I thought about it every day. I would go to 26th [ and California ] and defend people ... you're in Division 3 with your briefcase open and cockroaches are crawling in and out of it. You know ... everything's a gift; you just have to treat it that way.. Not to be too philosophical, but that experience—besides the humbling aspects of it ... .

People ask me now if I get nervous debating; I did in '91. I'd spoken many times before, but when it's you it's a different story. But I'd done 150 trials on 26th Street [ in the '90s ] —but debating Carl Hansen's nothing compared to being first chair state's attorney.

Getting to the board involved people giving me a second chance. Almost every time I'm on the floor, I think about those who gave me a break. Looking back, the main point [ involved ] having a second chance to show what I could do and that I cared. I said that all I wanted was one term. Now, people are writing that I ran to reinvent the county. The truth is that I went there to get across specific ideas about the environment [ and other issues ] . We weren't doing our mission well; it was obvious that we had extraordinary waste. When things are done in a way when you're just pouring contracts and jobs into people, you're wasting money—which is something that can exist during good times.

I always say that Rich Daley was a great, big boom-time mayor. He didn't build a coalition, he bought it. I tell my class that. He didn't sit down with Dorothy Tillman and change philosophies. I know Harold Washington aldermen who said 'The mayor wants your vote on the budget. Give him a list of what you want.' As a joke, they made up these things that were ridiculous and he gave it to them!

I think the same thing happened with the county. When I started resisting and voting no, it was because we needed to do our mission better. The state's attorney, public defender, healthcare programs ... they're clearly the second-tier government that people pay less attention to. I wanted to draw attention to them and illuminate things by saying, 'Hey, look at all these bad things'—but it was all coming off anecdotally. So I sat down with my staff and the forest preserve [ personnel ] to figure out what was wrong financially—and that's when it just started raining dog doo. You had intimidation and nastiness.

The Sun-Times and Tribune started editorializing everything and there was this whole change in dynamic. All of a sudden, it was 'You're starting something here that could change the government' and even then, there were some votes that were switching. And to [ Cook County Board president John ] Stroger's credit, he never voted against anything I introduced. He vetoed my amendments, we fought like hell on the floor, we disagreed on [ financial issues ] , but he never voted against affordable housing, LGBT [ rights ] , ethics reform ... .

Here's a great lesson in politics: Never withdraw anything—make someone vote no. Here's how you succeed as an independent: You have to be right, you have to substantiate what you're doing, and you have to put people in a position where they have to do the right thing.

WCT: During your first term, what were the gay issues that passed?

MQ: Domestic-partnership benefits for county employees, the Boy Scout issue came up [ in which Quigley contended that the organization should be denied exclusive use of a parcel of land ] , and there was the domestic-partnership registry. The transgender rights [ ordinance ] came up in 2001. That one was the most beautiful of all because we scheduled it when Carl Hansen wouldn't be there.

WCT: Do you feel like your first term opened up an opportunity for that second-term sea change on the county board? A lot of independents were elected.

MQ: A third of the board changed. [ The Sun-Times and the Tribune ] said that I created a climate for change that helped others get there. A third of the board ... is something of a Jeffersonian revolution.

The League of Women Voters is really the reason this all changed. They pushed changes to have single-member districts. Without the League, there's no Quigley. Without Quigley, there [ aren't ] five new commissioners. Without that, then those tax hikes pass and the changes in the forest preserves don't happen as much.

The board's trouble was that it used to be elected at-large, so the slate always won. Here's why: You couldn't raise enough money to run as a county commissioner. You know who ran and lost? Jan [ Schakowsky ] .

WCT: Talk about your potential opponents and how you're different from them.

MQ: The most important thing as it relates to Stroger is that he loves the mission. He's an amazing story; he came from Arkansas with nothing. He wrote the Cort Report, which is a skeletal outline of the synopsis of my report. It talks about restructuring the county. He said that you'd save 150 doing that—but he won't act on them. I give bills to Cullerton and [ Stroger ] tells Emil [ Jones, the state senate president ] to kill them. In the end, this is not age [ -related ] ; it's generational. Stroger loves the mission and his point is 'Give me more taxes or we'll have to close the clinics.' Peraica is the archconservative Republican and even Forrest [ Claypool ] is more of a libertarian. I think the mission's critical but the fact is that our next budget gap will be $200 million. This big fight we had last time was over $70 million. You're not going to raise taxes $200 million. First, it's an election year. Second, that'd be a real heavy blow to the economy.

So you have to look at the quarter-million dollar contracts that teach people how to clean bathrooms at Cook County Hospital. We have a lot of that. We're not an employment agency. ...

The one medical issue I'm closest to is choice. Working with [ Terry ] Cosgrove, we found out that our abortions were costing $2,500. We can outsource them to family planning groups for about $400-500 ... .

The most important characteristic the next president [ should have ] is the courage of your convictions. Phelan is proof that just because you're president doesn't mean that you can or want to change things. Stroger has the power but won't do it. Phelan had the power but couldn't pull it off with the board. I got things done in my first term with it raining dog doo because I know how to get legislation passed. ...

Even since that first term, there have been times when people like Mike Sheahan needed to be challenged—and I defy anyone to show me where anybody else on the floor questioned or challenged him. I was physically intimidated by his people; they had a sheriff in every precinct in my last election.

Of all the stories you may have heard—including the strip search case [ and ] the gay-bashing case that we settled ... here's what really happened ... . In litigation ( I'm vice-chairman of the litigation committee ) , we get reports on civil cases. There's case after case of abuse and the most troubling aspect was there was no internal mechanism to control this—that's what that judge's report said.

WCT: You mentioned how you feel a lot of gay people take your work on the issues for granted and who were going for Forrest even though he doesn't have as much history on the issues.

MQ: I think there are a few. I've been running campaigns for [ years ] now and there's a Grand Canyon's worth of difference between being good on the issues and bleeding through the issues.

WCT: So your differential is that it's easy now to be OK on gay issues. Do you not feel that they were allies in this last election or do you feel they were just votes?

MQ: Votes. Who helped me my first term? Stroger helped me with benefits. Did he go over the top? No, but he did some very helpful things. I even had some Republicans help me by doing things like not showing up; by not showing up, it reduced how many votes I needed [ to pass legislation ] .

I think that my record of taking on the issues like we have is indicative of past as prologue. I've always had a GLBT staffer. ... It is not just the voting. It is getting it done and taking the heat. ...

This job is the second-most powerful job in the region. On paper, it's more powerful than the [ Chicago mayoral position ] . In my heart, I feel that this spot would be the greatest sea change. You get so tired of begging. Why not put somebody in there that you don't have to worry about—somebody who will not just do what you ask but who will lead? If anything differentiates me [ from the other candidates ] , it's that I've lived this so thoroughly [ that ] it's just in my heart.

In the end, I think people like that [ I'm a fiscal watchdog. ] I think most don't give a damn that I'm in favor of transgender rights if I keep their taxes from going up. There's an extraordinary cynicism that, frankly, Rod [ Blagojevich ] didn't help with. If I have something up on others, it's that I had that first term where I took on Stroger, Sheahan and all these separately elected officials at different times. Also, [ if elected ] I would not serve as commissioner and president. [ Stroger currently serves as both. However, he receives only one salary. ]

This article shared 2872 times since Wed Jul 13, 2005
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