During his campaign for governor in 2010, Pat Quinn suffered the loss of one of his longest and must trusted confidantes, Jerry Stermer. As I reported that September, Stermer, then Quinn’s chief of staff, didn’t want to hurt his friend’s chances of winning his race against Bill Brady over a small scandal involving Stermer sending three political emails on his state account. Stermer took the initiative of quietly resigning in late August 2010. Quinn later just as quietly brought him back, but in a murkier position—senior advisor—rather than in his previous position as chief of staff (starting in 2009).
The Stermer history was not included in the initial local reports of his new job as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced today by the gov's office. Back when I reported the resignation, Stermer’s friends told me that he was a klutz with technology, and that the use of his state email for campaign purposes showed deficiencies in his organization—not his ethics.
The opening at the budget office comes as Quinn shifts David Vaught, who has led the budget office since 2009, to heading the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Quinn also named Dr. La Mar Hasbrouck as head of the Department of Public Health.
This morning, I emailed the governor’s press secretary, Brooke Anderson, seeking for interviews with and/or statements from Quinn and Stermer. Not possible today, she said, describing “Jerry” as “one of the governor’s best, longtime advisors” who will be a “big asset to the budget team. He has been intimately involved in budget discussions the past three years and also particularly Medicaid and pension discussions [Stermer currently leads Quinn’s pension working group], which are the two most pressing issues squeezing the budget right now.”
I also asked Anderson, given the qualities described above, why Stermer is “acting,” not permanent. She quickly responded, “He’s the right person for the here and now.” The Stermer postion does not require Senate confirmation; the other two appointments do require confirmation.
So why did Quinn put Stermer back in the budget job, which, I predict, will become a permanent appointment? (The “acting” label, I'd guess, was added to calm any complaints about Stermer’s email mishap). The budget and the pension mess are Quinn’s biggest, most complicated problems, and Stermer, especially given his close relations with Speaker Michael Madigan and his heading of the pension working group—due to report to the Governor next week—could be the one to begin to make some headway. Even Quinn, who sometimes seems to have his head in the sand on these issues, can see that they’re not going away, but if something isn’t done, he’ll have some serious competition not only in the next general election for governor, but also in the primary.
Both the Tribune and the Sun-Times editorialized in late Feburary after Quinn’s budget address that he better do something and he better do it now because Illinois’ problems are growing exponentially and threatening the state’s solvency. As the Sun-Times put it, Quinn said all the right things, laid out all the apocalyptic financial numbers: “All the man has to do now is, um, get it done.” His friend Stermer, Quinn has apparently decided, is just the guy to do that.