Quinn and Rahm: Why can’t they just get along?

SHARE Quinn and Rahm: Why can’t they just get along?

One is a notoriously disciplined political hammer who doesn’t suffer fools and runs roughshod over those who stand in his way.

The other made his name as a somewhat disorganized political gadfly with a pushover reputation that belies his toughness.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn are personality opposites, even though they’re both Democrats. 

While Emanuel has endorsed Quinn over the mayor’s close friend, Republican Bruce Rauner, the Quinn camp doubts the sincerity of that endorsement. 

Now, the governor who believes he doesn’t get the respect from Emanuel that he deserves has the financial health and future of Chicago in his hands.

Quinn can sign a bill on his desk that increases employee contributions and reduces benefits to save two of Chicago’s four employee pension funds or he can veto the bill on grounds that it would set the stage for a $250 million property tax hike at a time when the governor has offered property tax relief to soften the blow of his plan to make permanent a temporary increase in the state income tax. 

“If I was a betting guy, I’d say he probably signs it because there’s very little alternative,” one political insider said. 

“If their relationship had been better, maybe there would have been an alternative source of revenue other than the property tax, like a casino, to solve this problem by now. But, because the relationship is so chilly, it hasn’t happened that way.”

Earlier this week, Emanuel felt sandbagged by the governor when Quinn publicly ridiculed the mayor’s plan for a massive property tax hike and ruled it out with the catchy phrase, “No can do.” 

City Hall put out the word that the governor’s staff  had already been advised of Emanuel’s plan to strip any reference to the property tax from the pension bill and shift the political burden to the City Council. 

The Quinn camp flatly denied the grandstanding charge, although the governor acknowledged having seen and talked to Emanuel two days before his no-can-do declaration. 

It was only the latest sign of tension between Emanuel and Quinn, who have known each other for decades, share a mutual friend in political strategist David Axelrod and used to play basketball together on Saturdays. 

How did two Democrats who need to work together to solve Chicago’s pressing problems become so distrustful of one another?

“One reason for the tension is that Quinn is in the weaker position … his job approval is lower than the mayor’s. He’s also in a difficult re-election fight while the mayor isn’t. And Quinn needs Rahm more than the other way around. So Quinn doesn’t appreciate the mayor forcing him to do unpopular things — like support property tax increases,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. 

No one in either camp will allow their name to be attached to a discussion of the tension for fear of making it worse. But both sides acknowledge that the enmity is real.  

“There have been times that Rahm has gone into meetings with the governor and just laid into Quinn. That doesn’t serve as the basis for a good, warm relationship,” a source in the Quinn camp said.

“Rahm does a lot of things in closed court, pops it and wants people to roll over right away. That’s not the way it works. The governor feels the state does so much for the city in funding roads, bridges and schools, and that there’s very little gratitude by the mayor for that. Where there should be conversation, there is little. It’s, `We’re gonna do this’ and that’s it.” 

A mayoral confidante acknowledged that Emanuel “doesn’t respect the governor’s political acumen and ability to get things done,” so he’s inclined to go around him. 

Another would only say that Emanuel and Quinn are “very different people with different personalities.” 

Within weeks of taking office, Emanuel was engaged in a monthslong verbal battle with Quinn aimed at pressuring the governor to sign a bill that would have paved the way for a Chicago casino in and slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports.

When Quinn denounced the bill for “serious shortcomings” in the area of casino oversight, Emanuel all but dismissed those integrity concerns as a smoke screen. Emanuel also ticked off the wish list of projects he intended to build with casino cash and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against the governor’s chief of staff. 

The pressure tactic didn’t work with Quinn, who subsequently vetoed the casino bill, putting the decades-old issue back to square one.

Another chapter occurred when, the governor’s office contends, Emanuel promised to help pass state pension reform legislation, but never delivered, prompting the issue to take longer to resolve than it should have. The mayor had traveled to Springfield to unveil his own plan to solve the city’s pension crisis.

Quinn also beat Emanuel at his own hardball game by muscling through his choice to lead the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority that runs U.S. Cellular Field and helped rebuild Soldier Field.

During that bitter feud, Quinn accused Emanuel of blocking the governor’s choice — and tarnishing the reputation of a “strong woman” in the process — to pave the way for a “backroom deal” to renovate Wrigley Field.

What set Quinn off the most, and prompted him to pull a machine-style coup that belies his reformer roots, were stories about Kelly Kraft’s personal bankruptcy, which had been resolved. 

“I wish the mayor would stop doing this. This is a very good person. Stop assassinating her character. He has his operatives doing that. … They ought to examine their conscience,” Quinn said at the time.

Emanuel countered that he had “nothing against” Kraft personally. He simply wanted an executive director who could match the financial expertise of the three new board members he appointed to protect Chicago taxpayers who would be left holding the bag if the authority defaulted on stadium bonds.

“The board and the staff are literally the thin blue line protecting Chicago taxpayers, and I want the best there,” Emanuel said then. 

The tensions did not stop Quinn from signing legislation authorizing speed cameras in Chicago. The mayor also got his way when it came to choosing new leadership at McCormick Place.

The question now is whether Emanuel and Quinn can put aside their differences once again to prevent the Laborers and Municipal Employee pension funds from going belly up and, as the mayor put it, “pulling the city with it.” 

“Quinn’s still a bit of the outsider while the mayor is the essential insider. The mayor’s close association with Rauner has got to make Quinn feel uneasy,” Yepsen said. “In fairness, both men have to make some of the most unpopular decisions any governor and any mayor have had to make in recent times. That’s bound to tax even a close relationship.”

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times last month, Emanuel acknowledged the tensions with Quinn, but denied that he’s rooting for Rauner or helping him behind the scenes.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat. The governor and I have differences. I’m not gonna hide from it. It’s on the record. But, we’re not disagreeable. And we have more places we agree on things than we disagree…No governor and mayor, regardless of party, have agreed on things 100 percent,” the mayor said then.

“This idea that there’s some Machiavellian thing? I’m supporting Gov. Quinn. And I’m not just supporting him with lip service. I’m gonna help him get re-elected because I think he’d be good for the state.”

No matter what happens, tensions between Emanuel and Quinn probably won’t rise to the level of the bitter feud between former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former Gov. Jim Edgar that killed Daley’s plan for a Lake Calumet Airport, a Central Area Circulator and ultimately sealed the fate of Meigs Field.

The Meigs controversy dragged on for years, prompting a threatened Republican takeover of Chicago airports that Daley blocked, only after cutting a secret airport deal that has sent nearly $24 million to Gary, Ind. The power struggle ultimately culminated in Daley’s infamous midnight destruction of Meigs in March 2003, paving the way for Northerly Island to be turned into a nature park.

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