Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Quinn's Blago Problem: He Can't Escape the Taint of Corruption

The Illinois governor keeps getting compared to his infamous predecessor

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The word "embattled" is often used in the 24-7 news media to describe a public figure who has fallen from grace and faces a tough uphill battle toward redemption.

    In the high-stakes world of politics, where every false move could spell career suicide, "embattled" New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- formerly touted as a GOP frontrunner to run for president in 2016 --  continues to do heavy damage control following the damning revelations of "Bridgegate."

    And now, over in Illinois, Christie's fellow governor Pat Quinn has joined the Republican hothead in the "embattled" category. Although Quinn is not testing the waters of a presidential run -- that would be encroaching on co-Democrat Hillary Clinton's territory -- he is fighting for his political life against a rising tidal wave of allegations that he runs a corrupt operation.

    It certainly doesn't help that Quinn's Democratic precedessor, Rod Blagojevich, sits in federal prison outside Denver, serving a 14-year-sentence for corruption. (Rather than "embattled," Blago is "banned for life." A comeback bid for public office would be laughable but not surprising given his history of shameless behavior.)

    But while Blagojevich is teaching history to fellow inmates, Quinn remains tainted by the ghost of governors past as he seeks re-election this fall against hard-charging rival Bruce Rauner. The millionaire businessman has shrewdly stepped up comparisons to the thick-haired late-show punchline in a move to cast Quinn as guilty by association. Rauner's strategy is almost too easy but he would be remiss not to invoke the "Blago" name during his campaign. And repeated reminders that Quinn once reported to Blagojevich, whose impeachment and public meltdown turned Illinois into a national laughingstock, could prove catnip to voters already weary and distrustful of state politics.

    Quinn, meanwhile, is on the defense. During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe last week, he said his re-election efforts are going "pretty well" and added: "There's a lot of work to do there but I think our state has turned the corner. When I become governor, we had one former governor in jail and another one going to jail, so we had to straighten that out and we have."

    Looks like he spoke too soon: A new criminal investigation launched by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez aims to collect evidence of wrongdoing inside a troubled anti-violence grant program called the Neighborhood Recovery Iniative, which was set up by Quinn four years ago. Critics accuse the program of mishandling taxpayers money and have derided it as a "political slush fund."

    Armed with further ammo in his battle to take down Quinn, Rauner piggybacked upon the news of the probe with this statement issued through his spokesman Tuesday: "Today we learned of two major pending investigations into Pat Quinn’s administration. That’s a troubling low even by Quinn-Blagojevich standards."

    Probe No. 2 concerns cronyism, another legacy of state government. Attorney Michael Shakman filed a federal complaint alleging inappropriate patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation. In response, Camp Rauner sniped: "This is what we should expect from someone who rose from ghost payroller to lieutenant governor under two jailed governors."

    Well, there's light at the end of the tunnel. If Quinn loses his job in Springfield, he might reach out to Blagojevich's "embattled" wife, Patti, who's got a gig working for the family business.