Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
Like Rahm Emanuel, his predecessor in the 5th District, Congressman Mike Quigley has his eyes on the job of mayor—but Quigley says he is postponing the decision to run until after the midterm elections on November 2nd.

The 51-year-old Democrat told me during two conversations from his D.C. office Wednesday that, after meeting with Rahm over iced tea and lemonade at a restaurant near the White House, he’s sure the chief of staff is running for Rich Daley’s job: “He didn’t say he was running, but he sure acted like someone who is.” He added that Rahm is likely to leave Washington in October, rather than wait until after the midterms, as President Obama suggested he would. 

Recently, Emanuel has been meeting with his potential mayoral rivals—three from the Illinois congressional delegation alone: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (2nd), Danny Davis (7th), and, on Wednesday, Mike Quigley, who acknowledges he’s thinking about running.

Quigley said he was not circulating petitions (12,500 signatures are required by November 22nd), but pointed out that he was the last in during the crowded primary for Rahm’s seat in March 2009. When asked if he’s taking that course so that he can run for mayor while still holding on to his safe congressional seat—he won with 69 percent of the vote—Quigley said, “Getting way, way ahead of ourselves. I honestly haven’t even thought about that.” He insisted he’s waiting to declare because he’s helping in other Democrat campaigns across the country, including three “very tight races” in Illinois: Melissa Bean (8th), Debbie Halvorson (11th), and Bill Foster (14th).

Reared in suburban Carol Stream, Quigley, who has been in Congress for under a year and a half, seems to want to come home; his wife, Barbara, lives in the district, and he commutes here weekly.

A ten-year, reform-minded member of the County Board (1998-2009) and an aide to Ald. Bernard Hansen (1983-89), Quigley is also a teacher (at his alma maters Roosevelt and Loyola) and a lawyer—as well as an expert on budget matters. He expresses great pride in the “nine reports I wrote” on various aspects of Cook County finances, including tax increment financing. Asked what is the most important issue facing Chicago, he answered, “You could make a case for job creation or education, police on the street, but none of those things can happen unless we got our financial house in order. The city has sold many of its assets. It has extraordinary debt.” He added that the city has made “many poor choices financially, and now a mayor has to come in and make extraordinarily difficult choices.” The reports he wrote for Cook County, he said, show how to do that. “If any mayoral candidate wants to talk to me about that, I’m ready.”             

He said he won’t run if there are other people who share his concerns about the city’s fiscal condition “and would address them appropriately.” He declined to say if any of the double-digit list of potential candidates fits that bill. “Maybe four of them have a chance to win,” he adds. Who are they? “I definitely can’t say that out loud. There’s no reason for me to alienate them at this point.”

He’s not particularly close to Rahm. Their meeting Wednesday, Quigley insisted, was “99 percent policy”—specifically “tax increment financing, how that affects schools—not sexy to a lot of folks but an hour of pretty hard-core policy.”

Quigley expected Rahm, who requested the meeting, to ask for his support but said that Emanuel did not. “He’s asking for it by meeting with me. At the beginning of the meeting, I said that I’m waiting until after November 2nd.” Rahm did not try to discourage him from running, Quigley said.

To the perception that Emanuel is secretly Daley’s choice, Quigley said he expects the mayor to “stay out of it” until after the free-for-all February 22nd primary, when the top two vote-getters emerge to face off on April 5th. His own relationship with Daley, Quigley said, was “strained for all the years I was a County Commissioner because of the reports I wrote were contrary to the mayor’s views.”

He is sensitive to the barbs that might come his way if he chooses to run for mayor so soon after entering Congress (in April 2009). “This is a great job, and I’m lucky to be here. I’m in this House while people are losing [their seats]. There’s no complaining about this position—it’s exciting, it’s challenging.” 

He added that being a white male and a Catholic in a racially polarized city should not pose a problem. “Racial politics in Chicago has a long history of being intertwined with the mayor’s race, but I’d like to think we’re past much of that.”


Photograph: Chicago Tribune