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Where's Quigley aiming as he shoots from hip?

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

Sitting over soup and a sandwich last week, Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley looked a little tortured, like a guy with an anvil on his head.
Small wonder.
A Democrat elected in 1998, Quigley was the Lone Ranger of Reform his first four years in office.
In his second term, joined by three other reform-minded commissioners, Democrats Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin and Republican Tony Peraica, he was one of the Four Horsemen, riding hard against the bloated budgets and constant corruption of Cook County.
But today?
Today Quigley is viewed as the Benedict Arnold of county politics, the turncoat who keeps turning, reform one day, un-reform the next. He knows that's what people are saying about him, and claims he doesn't care.
"I have a great wife, two wonderful girls," he told me. "I don't need this."
By "this," he means public office.But I think he does need it. Quigley is a driven politician, in the best sense and, occasionally, in the worst.
The reason he's being called a traitor is that after fighting the good fight for so long against former County Board President John Stroger, after selflessly withdrawing from the 2006 primary race for president to give Claypool a fighting chance, Quigley did something that caused jaws to drop.
He threw his support to Todd Stroger.
Son of John, Todd was slipped into the race at the 11th hour by county ward bosses after they were finally forced to tell the truth and admit that Stroger Sr. was far too ill to run. It was a dirty rotten trick played at the last possible moment to preclude a viable independent from getting into the general election.
That meant Todd Stroger would have only one opponent, the Republican Peraica. And in a county that is ever-more Democratic in its voting patterns, even an uninspired candidate like Stroger couldn't screw it up enough to lose.
Calling the election a "grim choice," Quigley lent Stroger his own chief of staff for the campaign, attorney Jennifer Koehler, who today remains one of the new president's top deputies and one of the most highly paid deputies.
The "new" Quigley argued that he was going to take Todd at his word that he "was going to move the county in a different direction" and even install a truly independent inspector general.
But when the new president took office and proposed a slash-and-burn budget that eliminated more nurses and prosecutors than highly paid bureaucrats, many of whom were Stroger's friends and family, the "old" Quigley jumped back on his steed, galloping with the Horsemen, supporting a more targeted, more specific budget.
But wait.
Before the budget battle was over, Quigley was off his horse and at Stroger's side. His switch was the critical factor in Stroger's budget victory. Ironically enough, that Stroger budget had no extra money for the new and improved inspector general's office.
It was enough to give you whiplash.
So what the heck is Quigley doing?
Taking things "issue by issue," he says. "I know I've been very consistent, supporting the right measures, the right way; it wasn't always calculating."
But Quigley critics maintain that's exactly what it was, calculating. Laying the groundwork, perhaps, for higher office or greater influence. "I think that he thinks himself an insider now and probably has convinced himself that he can be more influential in an administration devoid of ideas,'' Peraica said last week.
But let's always remember, as we speak of reform in Chicago, that no one has a corner on political purity.
Not Quigley, who came up, with Machine backing, out of the 44th Ward. Not Peraica, who was happy to have the support of the old Cicero Machine until they betrayed him. Not Claypool, who was twice Mayor Daley's chief of staff before breaking with him. Not Suffredin, who is a lobbyist in a minefield of potential conflicts of interest.
They are all bright and complicated politicians.
But in the end, Quigley may be the most complicated of them all. If passion is a virtue, he transforms it into a vice. Todd Stroger, he once told me, is "Bambi in the land of Godzillas." Claypool, he said at lunch last week, "has no soul."
Quigley is one of the smartest, most talented public policy wonks to ever land at the County Board.
He's committed to the environment, women's issues, racial justice and fiscal sanity. I believe he is, most of the time, a reformer.
But lately, you need a road map to figure out where he's going and why.
When lunch was over, Quigley was heading back to the County Building to tell Donna Dunnings, the county's $144,000-a-year interim chief financial officer and Todd Stroger's cousin, that he would not vote to confirm her.
I'm not saying that's a bad idea.
But you can only shoot from the hip so many times before you've shot everyone in sight.


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