New Gov. Pat Quinn has a well-worn image as a political outsider, so when it came to picking his new chief of staff he didn't tap a big-time wheeler-dealer as his right-hand man.
Quinn on Monday chose longtime friend and children's advocate Jerry Stermer, who was president of Voices for Illinois Children for 22 years before joining Quinn's administration.
"It's important that the Land of Lincoln, our state government, have individuals of the highest integrity and sensitivity to the needs of people who are raising kids and who are working on jobs and hoping to keep their jobs and living from check to check every month," Quinn said in introducing Stermer.
But some Republican lawmakers already questioned whether Stermer was the right pick for the job with the state in the midst of a financial meltdown.
"I like and respect Jerry Stermer's tremendous advocacy on behalf of Illinois children. As a former chief of staff to Gov. Edgar, I was a little surprised considering the state's fiscal condition that Gov. Quinn picked a perpetual advocate of additional spending rather than a managerial type," said Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard.
Barely more than a week since becoming governor, Quinn is putting together his team of top advisers and early indications are that he's relying on people he knows who aren't typical political insiders.
Quinn has a lot to tackle, including how to fix what could be a $9 billion budget deficit. But so far he's not divulging what he plans to do and he won't rule out an income tax increase.
He'll get advice from Stermer, whose old advocacy group publicly blasts the Illinois tax system and the state's method for funding education. On its Web site, the group calls Illinois' tax structure "outdated" and says it "doesn't raise enough revenue" for education, health care and other services. The group says the state's education funding system, which relies on property taxes, also creates inequities.
"I think I saw once that our state gives more tax breaks to those raising thoroughbred horses than to those raising children," Quinn said.
Dillard said the Stermer pick makes him think the state is headed toward an income tax increase.
GOP state Senate Leader Christine Radogno said the main issue for Stermer and the Quinn administration has to be getting government spending under control.
"I hope he's equipped to deal with what the state is facing right now," Radogno said of Stermer.
Stermer is a good manager who knows how to run on a lean budget, said Craig Culbertson, chairman of the board of Stermer's old advocacy group.
"I think his reputation will serve him really well because he's totally respected and you know going in you better be talking to the merits and not talking to who can do what for whom," Culbertson said.
Stermer, 65, acknowledged "several sleepless nights" and long conversations with his wife before accepting the job.
"This will take unprecedented collaboration and cooperation among our elected officials, our public servants and all the citizens of Illinois," Stermer said.
Quinn, who praised Stermer's executive ability, said his administration would lay out a rescue plan for the state at his March budget address.
As governor, Quinn is also bringing new people into his inner circle now that he has replaced Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office Jan. 29.
On Monday, Quinn also announced that Ted Chung, a partner in a Chicago law firm, would be his new general counsel. Chung also has been general counsel for the Illinois Reform Commission, a group Quinn created to clean up state government in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal.
Chung said he hadn't even met Quinn until about a month ago, and that lack of familiarity, Chung says, will be an asset in a job where he may sometimes have to tell the new governor no.
"I don't have a lot invested emotionally in this man, right, a lot in the office, sure. But I don't feel like there is going to be kind of an inner conflict, within myself, in terms of giving him the best possible legal advice, exercising the best possible judgment with respect to his official position, his official duties, putting aside Pat Quinn the man," said the 42-year-old Chung, who lives in Highland Park.
Quinn has tapped one of his aides, 28-year-old Iraq War veteran and U.S. Army Capt. Dan Grant, to head the state's Department of Veterans' Affairs. Grant met Quinn in 2007 when the then-lieutenant governor was overseas visiting wounded soldiers.
Quinn also named Marc Miller of Springfield, who was a senior policy adviser to Quinn when he was lieutenant governor, to be director of the Department of Natural Resources, dumping a Blagojevich pick.