News & Politics » Ben Joravsky on Politics

Quiet in the City Council, Marty Quinn is Madigan's behind-the-scenes muscle

The 13th Ward alderman has run some of the house speaker's most formidable campaigns.

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13th Ward alderman Marty Quinn - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • 13th Ward alderman Marty Quinn

As hard as it is for me to believe—and I still can't get over it—one of the most powerful operatives in Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan's mighty Democratic Machine is a mild-mannered alderman who rarely says a word during City Council debates.

That's alderman Marty Quinn-of Madigan's home 13th Ward, on the southwest side.

In the March primary, Quinn oversaw three legislative campaigns on Madigan's behalf, including Juliana Stratton's successful run against state rep Ken Dunkin—one of the most expensive and high—profile legislative campaigns in state history.

Quinn may not keep his role as a Madigan operative a secret, but he certainly doesn't publicize it.

I only found out about his role in the Stratton race from a conversation with a political operative that went a little like this:

Me: Who's running Stratton's campaign?

Operative: Marty.

Me: Marty who?

Operative: Marty Quinn.

Me: The alderman? Are you freaking kidding me?

Only maybe I didn't say "freaking."

Anyway, I did a little digging and discovered that since 2000, Quinn's made more than $400,000 as a strategist for Madigan's political operations, running various campaigns for secretary of state Jesse White, Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart, and former Senate candidate Dan Hynes—just to name a few.

In the March primary, Quinn worked on campaigns for Stratton, state rep Sonya Harper, and Madigan himself.

When Quinn started his political work back in the early 2000s, he was more or less a full-time campaign aide for Madigan. In 2013, he got elected to the council. He was reelected last year—not too difficult, as he ran unopposed.

His political work amounts to a second job—which he reports on his council ethics statement under the category of "advisor" to "Friends of Madigan."

From what party insiders tell me, Quinn is Madigan's go-to-guy for really important races—like the recent Stratton-Dunkin showdown.

In that campaign, Madigan wanted to punish Dunkin for breaking ranks with house Democrats to support Governor Rauner on a couple of bills.

Before it was over, President Obama aired commercials for Stratton, who won with more than 67 percent of the vote.

In many ways, the Statton campaign was a classic Quinn/Madigan affair.

Put it this way: running against a Marty Quinn candidate is like sitting in the front row of a live performance by insult comedian Lisa Lampanelli: You're gonna get slammed.

First, Quinn has research operatives dig through your background, looking for evidence of indiscretions—especially any that led to jail time.

Then, he hammers you with mailings and commercials that turn you into a shadowy, almost frightening figure.

The point here is not only to win the election, but to scare future candidates from even thinking about challenging the speaker or his caucus members.

Among legislative insiders that I talked to, Quinn is known as Madigan's muscle.

In contrast, in the City Council Alderman Quinn is a minor player. He's only introduced two bills in his tenure, and almost never votes against the mayor.

Apparently, the speaker wants the mayor to know his alderman from the 13th Ward won't challenge the mayor's authority in Chicago. In return, the mayor rarely—if ever—challenges Madigan in Springfield.

Quinn is so under the radar that he has no social media presence. Dang, Marty—even I'm on Facebook.

Anyway, last week I reached out to Alderman Quinn for comment. And, well, I must make a confession.

Marty, I prejudged you. Assuming you would not take my call, I went straight to Steve Brown, Madigan's press spokesman.

I'd no sooner finished telling Brown why I was calling, when the phone mysteriously went dead. Apparently, Marty really does have clout, I thought.

When I called back, Brown uttered one of the decade's great understatements: "Marty doesn't look for big media."

He went on to explain Quinn's value to Madigan: "Marty's a great nuts-and-bolts political operative who understands how to run a good ground operation."

But amazingly enough, Quinn did take my call. When I reached him, he was modest, and said I was "overstating" his role in Madigan's political operation. "I don't view myself as a political strategist," he said. "I view myself as a public servant."

Then he gave me a brief biography: He grew up in the 13th Ward. His father, Bob Quinn, was 15th Ward superintendent—the powerful city worker in charge of garbage collection.

"My father was a very talented precinct worker, and he taught me you have to put in the time going door to door," said Quinn. "I still spend a lot of time going door to door. Last year, I met 1,611 people."

You counted?

"Yes."

The younger Quinn graduated from Saint Rita in 1993, and then from Saint Xavier University. His wife is a speech pathologist for the Chicago Public Schools and a proud member of the Chicago Teachers Union—which means that last Friday, she was walking the picket line.

Right on, Mrs. Quinn!

True to form, Alderman Quinn said he didn't want to discuss his involvement in any election, including the Stratton campaign.

"I think you're overreaching when you play up my role," he reiterated. "The reality is, Juliana Stratton was a very good candidate. She took her case door to door throughout the Fifth District. That election was about Juliana Stratton—it's not about Marty Quinn."

Well, it was probably about Barack Obama. But, whatever.

Quinn also said he planned to speak up in council debates more frequently, noting he offered comments about the mayor's budget last year—which he supported.

"It was really nice chatting to you," he then said. And with that our conversation was pretty much over.

It was nice talking to you too, Alderman. Let's not be strangers. Now that I know what a badass you are, I'm officially enlisting you to the cause.

Start treating Mayor Emanuel like he was Ken Dunkin. Hit him hard for his dumb ideas—like that Lathrop Homes TIF, for starters.

Bring in the president, if you have to. We need all the help we can get. v


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