Jim Dey | Democrats aiming to turn Quinn's strength into weakness

Jim Dey | Democrats aiming to turn Quinn's strength into weakness

The prospect of longtime Democratic politician Pat Quinn winning his party's nomination for attorney general continues to give his party rivals heartburn, most especially Chicago state Sen. Kwame Raoul.

Raoul, the choice of party leaders, was supposed to win the March 20 primary election in a walk. After all, he's been endorsed by those who matter and consequently, has an ample campaign treasury.

But one thing neither Raoul nor six other Democratic candidates have is what Quinn — a former governor, lieutenant governor and state treasurer — has in spades: name recognition.

Many voters have never heard of Raoul, state Rep. Scott Drury, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Chicago Park Board President Jesse Ruiz or Chicago lawyers Aaron Goldstein, Sharon Fairley and Renato Mariotti.

Meanwhile, Quinn, who got in the race late, is a household name in Illinois. It's the result of his nearly 50 years of campaigning for various causes, including himself, and publicly clashing with foes in both parties.

Given the advantage that gives Quinn, the only alternative his Democratic opponents have is turning the 69-year-old pol's strength into weakness by tarring Quinn's reputation.

In political terms, it's described as driving negatives up.

Raoul, obviously playing to the black vote in Chicago, recently recycled a political tactic former state Comptroller Dan Hynes unsuccessfully used against Quinn in the 2010 Democratic primary election.

Hynes, who is now out of politics, advertised recycled quotes from former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who bashed Quinn as a useless high level administrator whom he enthusiastically fired.

"I must have been blind or staggering (when I hired him). I would never appoint Pat Quinn to do anything. Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual," Washington said.

It is difficult to say how much damage that kind of rhetoric will do to Quinn's campaign. After all, it's ancient history — Mayor Washington died in 1987.

But there's another Quinn scandal out there that's not ancient history. It's recent history — the patronage hiring scandal at the Illinois Department of Transportation that was made public in 2014. Its reverberations continue to be felt as federal court monitor Noelle Brennan, who was appointed by federal Judge Sidney Schenkier, continues to examine a variety of state executive department for evidence of more patronage hiring like what occurrred at IDOT under former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Quinn.

Raoul is trying to make an issue of the illegal hiring scandal as well. Whether he'll be successful or not remains to be seen.

But the allegations that Quinn presided over illegal hiring at IDOT go straight to the heart of whether he's the right man to be the Democratic candidate for attorney general. After all, state attorneys general are supposed to enforce the law, not violate it wholesale.

Although political patronage — in the forms of jobs, contracts and perks — is endemic in the history of this state's wretched politics, it has been illegal since a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision — Rutan vs. the Republican Party of Illinois.

Since that landmark ruling, all state hiring, with the exception of high-level executive department jobs that are policy-making in nature, is required to be based purely on merit.

Two reports — one conducted by a state Inspector General Ricardo Meza and released in the fall of 2014 and another completed by Brennan in 2017 — revealed the extent to which patronage hiring at IDOT became routine, first under Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and then, after Blagojevich's impeachment and removal from office, under Gov. Quinn.

The illegal patronage hiring binge began after the 2006 election, when Democrats broke what had become a GOP stranglehold on the office that dated back to the 1976 election of former Gov. James Thompson.

Eager to reward campaign donors, party loyalists, family members and friends, the Quinn administration started loading up IDOT with patronage employees. To evade hiring rules, they created phony staff assistant jobs that supposedly were "Rutan exempt" but were, in fact, doing "Rutan-covered work."

In a lengthy and detailed report, Brennan reported that 154 staff assistants were illegally hired between 2009-14 regardless of their qualification or any needs IDOT had.

Among those overseeing the illegal hiring, according to Brennan's report, were top Quinn officials, incuding chiefs and deputy chiefs of staff Jack Lavin, Ryan Croke, Mark Harris and Sean O'Shea.

They all were interviewed under oath by Brennan, each man denying any improprieties. In light of all the evidence to the contrary contained in her 89-page report, Brennan said their denials were "not credible."

Both the reports from Inspector General Meza and court monitor Brennan outlined an orgy of favor-seeking by politicians of all stripes, to the point that Judge Schenkier decided to expand Brennan's ongoing investigation to additional departments besides IDOT.

Quinn professed to be shocked by the inspector general's report and fired the head of IDOT. He later told the Chicago Tribune that he had no involvement in IDOT hiring issues, although it's clear that his closest subordinates were.

Given the evidence implicating the Quinn administration, it's clear that Quinn either was aware of what was going on or made it a point not to be aware of the massive hiring abuses occurring right under his nose. Either way, he fails the test of propriety as it relates to the law enforcement position he is seeking. That's something his Democratic rivals are desperately trying to bring to the attention of primary voters.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com.

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dmlawyer wrote on March 15, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Noelle Brennan was an abulance chasing failure until her boyfriend Judge Andersen gave her carte blanche to invade the city of chicago...she is constatnly crying wolf to increase her billable hours