Who Wears the Pants in Illinois? It's Not Quinn

Pat Quinn is learning something every governor should know from the moment he takes the oath of office: he’s not the most powerful elected official in Illinois. Not even close.

That’s especially true for Democratic governors. As Quinn balks at signing legislation that would change the way McCormick Place is run, he’s finding himself bullied and boxed in by the two Democrats who outrank him in the party’s hierarchy: Mayor Richard M. Daley and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

If Quinn signs the bill, he’ll lose the power to name McCormick Place’s CEO. The $185,250 a year job is one of the governor’s most lucrative appointments. For the next 18 months, the convention center will be run by Madigan ally Jim Reilly, who’s currently the legislature’s chief adviser on McCormick Place. After that, the CEO will be named by a board jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor.

Just so Quinn knows who wears the pants in this state, Daley is calling him on the carpet to ask him whether he’s got some sort of hand cramp that’s preventing him from signing this bill.

“We’ll be talking to him very shortly,” Daley promised.

The bill will also cut union jobs by allowing exhibitors to set up their own booths. Unlike Mayor-for-Life Daley and Speaker-for-Life Madigan, Quinn has to worry about winning re-election. And he needs union support to do so.

It’s not pretty to see a Democratic governor kicked around by two allegedly lower-ranking office holders. It does explain, though, why Republicans were able to control the governor’s office for so long. After Gov. Dan Walker clashed with the Chicago Machine, Mayor Richard J. Daley put up a candidate who beat him in the 1976 Democratic primary, beginning 26 years of Republican rule in Springfield. Throughout that period, Republican governors presented themselves as a counterweight to Chicago’s Democratic mayor.

During a committee hearing on the bill, Madigan admitted that McCormick Place “may be different,” but that changes were needed to ensure that Chicago doesn’t lose conventions to rival cities.

“But life is full of changes, right?” Madigan said -- knowing that in Illinois, he’s the one who gets to decide whose life changes.

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