Gov. Quinn, Political Innocent? | Bleader

Gov. Quinn, Political Innocent?

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Illinois has a new governor, and the new governor has already had his picture taken.

In the Sun-Times Friday, Abdon Pallasch called Quinn a "gadfly" and  "populist crusader." Mark Brown described him as the sometimes "pariah of Illinois politics because of his incessant pleading for reform." The editorial page hailed Quinn as "an agitator and gadfly in the best sense of the words."

In the Tribune, David Greising called Quinn a "Gov. Gadfly" who has "spent a career keeping populist causes in the public eye." A skeptical editorial page described him as a "gadfly and a political outsider" who always knew how to "latch onto a populist cause."

Rod Blagojevich is gone but it's still the same old Springfield with the same old cast of characters. Can our gadfly cut it? Or as I heard state senator Rickey Hendon bluntly put it Thursday night on Channel Two, "The biggest challenge that I see for Pat Quinn is to overcome the do-gooder, reformer image. Pat has to know that you have to grease the wheels -- that's the way it works -- to get things done around here."

Is the new governor a lamb thrown to the wolves?

Pat Quinn has wandered on the outskirts of the news for a long time, but he was a central character in a story I wrote for the Sun-Times in 1975. At the time Quinn was a political organizer for Dan Walker, who in 1972 had concocted such a powerful image of his own as a reformer, as the implacable foe of the Daley machine, as the political outsider who would fumigate the state, that he brushed aside Paul Simon in the Democratic primary and defeated the incumbent governor in November. Walker lasted one term, and afterwards, for reasons unrelated to politics, he spent 18 months in prison.

In 1974 Walker decided to meddle in some of Chicago's legislative races. He saw an opportunity in the old 17th District, which ran northwest from Western and North to Austin and Irving Park. He sent in Pat Quinn.

My story described Quinn as "a young, ruddy, handsome man variously described by acquaintances interviewed for this article as 'a real mover...brilliant...very impressive...damn believable...absolutely disarming...absolutely ruthless..."

Quinn decided Frances Boelkow, a 68-year-old community activist who lived with her retired husband in a second-story flat reached by outside stairs, would make a good independent candidate. She needed to be talked into it. "We never lose," Quinn told her. He didn't tell her there was already another independent in the race, Mike Holewinski, an assistant secretary of the Illinois Racing Board who was going to law school at night. Holewinski was young and dynamic, and had better connections in the district than Boelkow did. But Walker didn't like him and wanted to force him out of the race.

Holewinski wouldn't be forced. His campaign took off, and Boelkow's, after she drew a ballot position under his, collapsed. A friend of hers said, "Suddenly all these friends faded away....Pat put the problem on the table. She still had a chance but they were quite long. Frannie could run a low-level campaign but there'd be none of the flair of the original campaign. Then they went away. It had the tone of -- we're ditching you. Frannie broke down. I don't know if she slept the next couple of days."

Boelkow stopped campaigning and endorsed Holewinski. In the end, Walker endorsed him too. But the candidate Walker really went to bat for was Ted Lechowicz, one of the district's three incumbents (this was back in the day when the districts were larger and each elected three representatives). Lechowicz was a young machine Democrat, but Walker calculated that he was negotiable.

In the end, the 17th District sent Lechowicz, Holewinski, and John Leon, another machine incumbent, to Springfield. To quote myself, "As for Frances Boelkow -- she lost $600 out of her own pocket. 'I was used, abused, and bruised,' she would complain later. And before long she would have a heart attack. But she's on the mend."

Governor Quinn will be OK. He's played some hardball. And not just in the sandlots either. Here's a profile of him from that era, by Marcia Stepanek for Illinois Issues.

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