In a signal that Illinois' unprecedented pension crisis could take center stage in next year's gubernatorial election, former White House chief of staff William Daley on Monday blasted Gov. Pat Quinn for a lack of leadership on the issue.
Sounding increasingly like a candidate, Daley, who is likely to be Quinn's only Democratic challenger in 2014, talked about the financial crisis that in recent days has been blamed for the layoffs of more than 2,000 Chicago teachers and state's unemployment rate climbing slightly.
Standing near Lake Michigan with the city skyline behind him, Daley even mentioned another city — Detroit — as he made his case that the governor needs to act quickly and dramatically.
"There has got to be some awareness of a crisis here and it is only the governor who can create ... the atmosphere of a crisis to solve the problem," said Daley, who has formed an exploratory committee and has emerged as Quinn's top challenger after Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced last week that she won't run.
Talk of action, and blame for inaction, on Illinois nearly $100 billion pension problem isn't new.
Quinn himself has made it his top issue for about two years, called special sessions and set hard deadlines for lawmakers, but with little success. Currently, a bipartisan panel is looking at possible solutions after the House and Senate remained deadlocked on an approach and Quinn has moved to halt lawmaker pay until they come up with a solution.
But Daley said it hasn't been enough and blamed Quinn for wasting time on "ribbon cuttings" and "ground breakings" and signing bills passed months ago. He even dismissed the governor's decision to pay as a "gimmick" that, he said, may even be unconstitutional.
Instead, Daley suggested that Quinn force lawmakers to come to the executive mansion for round-the-clock negotiations, and keep them there until they "pound out a deal" on pensions. "No one leaves until they come to a resolution," he said.
Quinn, who hasn't talked much of his 2014 approach aside from saying he has a job to do as governor, said that he has held "meetings galore" on pensions.
"There's always going to be people on the sidelines sniping away," he told reporters Monday after an unrelated event.