- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn does not tolerate cheating, even if it only means shaving a few steps off a promised 170-mile hike.

Quinn and close friend Dr. Quentin Young hiked across Illinois in 2001 to promote universal health care. At the end of each day, Quinn would mark on the road exactly where they stopped. He expected to pick up at precisely that spot the next day, whether or not Young agreed.

“‘Come back, come back,’ I can hear him now,” said Young, now 85.

“He’s squeaky clean and, without demeaning him, he has a Boy Scout mentality,” Young said. “He believes in goodness and evil.”

After six years as lieutenant governor, Quinn is leaning on his image as an honest public servant as he leads Illinois government following the corruption scandal that engulfed predecessor and fellow Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn, 60, once said he couldn’t afford to run for governor. Instead, he inherited the office in January when lawmakers impeached and removed Blagojevich following his arrest on federal corruption charges, including allegations he tried to sell President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing.

Now, Quinn is settling into office amid the state’s worst economic crisis _ which has meant that he had to deliver bad news about budget cuts and the possibility of a state income tax increase to fix an $11.5 billion deficit.

Quinn said giving that bad news was the honorable thing to do.

“Leveling with the people, being honest. If you have to administer castor oil to make the patient better in the long run it’s better to do that,” he said during a recent break from work over a ham and cheese omelet and cup of tea at a downtown Chicago diner.

Quinn’s personal frugality is well known. He’s still carrying a nearly 30-year-old briefcase nicknamed Betsy, is a connoisseur of discount hotels and brags about recycling his old state business cards by crossing out the word “lieutenant.”

The former tax attorney built a career on the populist ideals of agitating against government and for the little guy, drawing much from his time at Fenwick High School in suburban Oak Park.

“Definitely an emphasis on social justice. And the Dominicans, the order that runs it, have a special obligation to the poor and the working class,” said Quinn, who still regularly shoots hoops at the Fenwick gym where his brother John coaches.

“I don’t like not playing,” Quinn said. “You feel like you didn’t do something right that day.”

The divorced father of two _ sons ages 24 and 25 _ doesn’t like coarse language and is unfailingly polite because “propriety is important to him,” Young said.

He attended Georgetown University and was a sports editor on the newspaper, investigating athletic department issues, said Michael Karam, a retired Justice Department attorney who was at school with Quinn.

“Pat would talk about … people giving you jive about what was really going on and, you know, really wanting to get to the bottom of things,” Karam said. “And he had that knack. … He could see what was going on and sort of pull everything apart to find out the real nub of the issues.”

A Chicago Tribune poll just after Quinn replaced Blagojevich found 46 percent of Illinois residents had never heard of him or had no opinion. Even though Quinn was twice Blagojevich’s running mate, the two were on the outs and he was relegated to the fringes of state government.

However, he has been around state government for years, including a stint as state treasurer from 1991 to 1995.

Quinn first gained attention in political circles for his grass-roots work, most notably in 1980 when he successfully organized an effort to cut the number of Illinois General Assembly members and a few years later when he helped create the consumer watchdog Citizens Utility Board.

He has built a reputation for political stunts; three years ago, he urged utility customers to mail tea bags with their payments to protest rate hikes.

“He gets under your skin sometimes with populist stunts but at least he’s hardworking and sincere,” said Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who has known Quinn and his family for years.

Dillard said Quinn will need to adjust his style now that he’s in charge.

“I think Gov. Quinn is a product of the Kennedy and the ‘60s upbringing and I’ve never questioned the sincerity of his populist beliefs. But now he’s the governor and he doesn’t need stunts like he did,” Dillard said.

Still, Quinn doesn’t sound much inclined to change.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet on populism,” he said. “I’m here to put the pop _ the people _ back into populism.”


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide