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Mike Quigley Smells a Rat

But his inexperienced young opponent swears she's legit.



Mike Quigley doesn't support his local sheriff. Since he was elected to the Cook County Board in 1998, Quigley, a scrappy amateur hockey player who represents the lakefront wards, has denounced Sheriff Michael Sheahan for running his own boot camp, for patrolling areas outside his bailiwick, for doubling his budget, and for tolerating deputies who beat and strip-search prisoners.

Now, Quigley believes, the sheriff is coming after him with guns drawn. In the March 19 Democratic primary, Quigley faces Mary Ellen Daly, a 27-year-old bridal shop manager who he calls "a candidate from out of nowhere--with no discernable credentials, but an appealing last name." He's convinced Sheahan is her puppet master.

"Sheriff's mad at me because I'm telling the world he's a sexist, racist, homophobic bad guy," Quigley charges, wolfing down Chinese takeout in the Belmont Avenue office he shares with his mentor, 44th Ward alderman Bernie Hansen, for whom Quigley was once chief of staff. "He's created an atmosphere of excessive force, that might makes right."

Quigley promotes himself as a liberal reformer, a friend of gays and battered women. He sponsored the county's domestic partner ordinance and is pushing to build a new domestic violence courthouse, with larger courtrooms and separate waiting areas so women won't have to sit in the hallways alongside their alleged abusers. Sheahan is the former alderman of the old-school 19th Ward, whose economy is built on patronage. At a budget hearing last fall, Quigley testily criticized Sheahan for increasing his budget from $169 million to $392 million since taking office in 1991, for almost doubling his deputies even though the county has fewer and fewer unincorporated areas to patrol, and for running his own boot camp for young offenders despite the fact that the state already has two.

"It creates more jobs, more patronage," Quigley says.

Quigley's also irked that the county had to pay $6.8 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by 2,600 women who were illegally strip-searched in the jail, on top of 32 brutality lawsuits totaling $1.5 million in damages. Three sheriff's officers are currently on trial in the beating death of Louis Schmude, who smarted off to a jailer at the Bridgeview courthouse, and a fourth was indicted last year in connection with the strangling death of Michael Chambers during a brawl at a suburban wedding reception.

Last year, Quigley started hearing rumors that Sheahan planned to take him down. An item appeared in Crain's Chicago Business, and the topic came up during an hour-long meeting between the sheriff and the commissioner. Sheahan jokingly dismissed the scuttlebutt, Quigley recalls. "He said, 'If someone asked me if I'm going to run someone against him, I'd say 'Nah, I've got nothing against Quigley,'" Quigley says. "At the end of the meeting, Sheahan said, 'If I really wanted to fuck with you, I'd run one of my kids against you. I've got two or three kids up there.'"

Like many of his southwest-side cronies, Sheahan likes to meddle in north-side elections. In 1995, he supported candidates who challenged 38th Ward alderman Tom Allen and 50th Ward alderman Bernie Stone. Last fall, Bridget Gainer, a former Park District executive and 19th Ward native, announced she would challenge Quigley in the primary. Gainer is the daughter of William Gainer, an Ameritech lobbyist and Sheahan acquaintance, and Quigley smelled a plot. Gainer ended up dropping out, supposedly as part of a deal between County Commissioner John Daley and Alderman Hansen. The Daley family is trying to get Rahm Emanuel elected congressman from the northwest side's Fifth District. Hansen wanted to protect his protege. After the Daleys called off Gainer, the story goes, Hansen ended up supporting Emanuel. (Gainer says she never sought campaign advice from Sheahan or Daley; she dropped out because this was "not the right time" in her life to campaign for office.)

Once Gainer disappeared, Mary Ellen Daly stepped up. When her petitions came in, every sheet was signed at the bottom by her mother, Karen Daly. There was no way, Quigley theorized, that one woman could supervise the collection of 900 signatures in a single weekend--Sheahan must have sent some goons up to the north side who were trying to hide their identities. Quigley took the case to the Board of Elections, which agreed with Daly's story that all the petitions were passed around by her friends and family. The plot seemed even thicker when Quigley saw Daly's election attorney: James P. Nally. Nally serves on the sheriff's department merit board. Sheahan put him there in 1992.

Nally, who is one of fewer than a dozen election lawyers in Chicago, says he never discussed the Daly campaign with Sheahan "in any way, shape, or form." Sheahan's spokesman, Bill Cunningham, also denies the sheriff is behind Daly and points out that the last time a Sheahan was involved in a Quigley campaign was in 1991, when the sheriff's brother, James "Skinny" Sheahan, worked on Quigley's unsuccessful effort to unseat 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller. That was different, Quigley says: "I don't think any of it was stealth, and both sides were involved in bringing people in."

To Quigley, this conspiracy of Irish clans is a sneaky plan to confuse voters, who don't pay much attention to the county board. Although he's been attending two or three neighborhood meetings a night during this campaign season, Quigley's name recognition in the district is only around 30 percent. He feels vulnerable to a woman named Daly, especially since a solid majority of lakefront Democrats are women.

"This is stealth government," he says. "I'll have a stealth candidate who will play on the sympathies of women in this district. I don't mind having a candidate, [but] make it someone who's serious. Otherwise, it's the most cynical, exploitative use of a woman."

Daly didn't find out she'd be on the ballot until February 15, when the election board accepted her petitions. She's just started campaigning, and she can do it only on Wednesdays and Sundays, when she has time off from her job as manager of Ultimate Bride, an Oak Street boutique. Inside her spare Edgewater campaign office are a computer, a telephone, a radio, and a few ward maps. On the door is a photo of Daly with her six-year-old daughter.

Before Sunday afternoon, Daly had never given a press interview. With her father, Dan, standing to the side of her desk, she admits she's "very nervous--I've [only] had my job interview" and her first answers sound miffed and defensive. To the opening softball--"What's the first thing you want to do on the county board?"--she responds, "I don't know right now. First, I want to get there. I don't have a lot of experience."

A Lane Tech graduate and a north-sider since she was 12, Daly has done precinct work for Dawn Clark Netsch, Mayor Daley, and Cook County Board president John Stroger, but didn't get seriously involved in politics until now. She went through a divorce two years ago and is just returning to an independent life.

"I just started getting to the point where I'm more financially able to do things," she says. Daly's number one argument for her candidacy: she can get along with the other commissioners better than Quigley, who she says has alienated the rest of the board with personal insults and grandstanding. None of Quigley's fellow board members have endorsed him, she says, because he's so querulous and abrasive. (Quigley says he didn't ask for their endorsements.)

"Quigley's always in the paper," Daly says. "He's in every single article. He doesn't sound like he's doing anything. Everybody's wrong. He's right."

Quigley was wrong to oppose the sheriff's boot camp, because it keeps kids from being thrown in with the older criminals in the state's boot camp. And, she says, it was "un-Democratic" of him to vote against the county's most recent health budget.

"He said the plan that was being proposed didn't fall within the budget, and he didn't want to reward them," Daly says. "By not rewarding them, he's hurting the people."

Does Sheahan have anything to do with Daly's campaign? She says she has "never met the man," although her father, who frequently interrupts the interview with passionate, finger-pointing asides, admits to "know[ing] the sheriff a little bit." Her campaign manager is Rod McCulloch, who has worked for Al Salvi, as well as a number of Democratic politicians.

"I got him because he's an independent guy," Dan Daly says. "The other thing is, she's an underdog," so the campaign had to go with whoever it could get.

Daly names a few issues that are important to her--women's rights, health care, safety--but doesn't get specific about what she'd do to promote them. After criticizing Quigley for his doggedness in protecting the forest preserves--"there's not a lot of forest preserve in my district"--she promises to focus on lakefront erosion. Pressed for plans, she says she's meeting soon to talk about it with a family friend who she later identifies as a Naperville environmental engineer.

"She doesn't know really a lot about a lot of things," Dan Daly interjects, "so she wants to surround herself with people who do know."

Perhaps it is sincerely a family campaign, beholden to no big-shot politicians. It seems to have little chance against Quigley, who has the support of the gay community, the newspapers, and all the ward committeemen. Quigley has $46,000 in his campaign fund. Daly's first fund-raiser was scheduled for February 28 at Lexi's restaurant on West Madison. Her only hope may be the support of some big shots. If Sheriff Sheahan offered help, Daly wouldn't refuse.

By bashing Sheahan as a bigot, "Quigley made it real easy for me now," Daly says. "I could be 14 years old and he'd probably endorse me."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Dorothy Perry.

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