I thought I had it figured out. The respected good guy Jerry Stermer, Pat Quinn’s chief of staff, resigned the post last week after acknowledging that he inadvertently sent political e-mails using his state account.
Next to no one seems to understand why Stermer, who has spent much of his career advocating on issues involving the health and education of children, especially poor children, would leave over such a measly infraction—three e-mails out of some 39,000 examined—especially since he himself reported the tiny infraction to former Executive Inspector General James Wright last January.
My theory was that Stermer resigned because he needed a way out of an administration that looks to be heading to defeat in November to Bill Brady, the Republican candidate.
“I don’t see how Quinn’s going to win,” said one source, a longtime friend of Stermer’s, citing the hit that the governor could take from Scott Lee Cohen, who is running as an independent and making inroads with African-American ministers. Black voters remain angry with Quinn for choosing Sheila Simon, daughter of the late Senator Paul Simon, to be as his lieutenant governor instead of African-American Art Turner, Cohen’s runner-up in the lieutenant governor primary. Add to that the votes that will go to the Green Party and Libertarian candidates, as well as the fact that Republican governors—Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia—are suddenly all the rage.
However, further into my reporting, my theory—about Stermer wanting a way out—bit the dust.
Had he not fallen on his sword, this source told me, “the Brady camp would have been crying for his resignation, calling for investigations. Jerry did not want to wear the jacket for disrupting Quinn’s path to winning the election. He didn’t see a more pragmatic way.”
“Jerry is a highly ethical guy,” the source said. “He left because he honestly felt he was a distraction. Resigning because he wanted out would be antithetical to all Jerry has worked for during his career. If you’re an advocate [for children] on the inside, it makes a huge difference.” He added that Stermer’s resignation was “a great loss to kids,” calling the exit “ethics gone nuts—[like] throwing the book at him for jaywalking when lobbyists are nothing but fucking laundromats.”
So why did Quinn, who goes back to the Dan Walker administration with Stermer, accept his chief of staff’s resignation? “Because Quinn did the calculus in his mind and probably came to the same conclusion,” said another knowledgeable source, who blamed Quinn’s campaign for Stermer’s exit. This person pointed out that Stermer’s infractions came in responding to e-mails sent by Quinn’s campaign staffers. “They should have known better"—that Stermer is a technology klutz.
This source added that Stermer’s resignation was a blow to the state since he was liked by elusive Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. “This is really a loss. It was never a problem for Stermer to reach Madigan or [state Senate President John] Cullerton.”
A call to Stermer’s cell phone was not returned by post time.
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