Emanuel’s new communications chief prepared for pressure-cooker

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Kelley Quinn got her start as a 20-year-old newspaper reporter covering minor league baseball in Elmira, New York. On Thursday, she was promoted to the major leagues of Chicago politics.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose Quinn, 45, to be his new communications director heading into what is certain to be a tumultuous summer dominated by the city’s pension crisis.

Quinn succeeds Sarah Hamilton, who is jumping off the City Hall treadmill after four months at the Chicago Police Department and 2 1/2 years as Emanuel’s chief spokesperson.

Although the mayor’s popularity has plummeted, Hamilton said she’s not jumping ship.

“I talked about this with the mayor a month ago. I’ve been here nearly three years. It’s been wonderful. I’ve learned something every day. He’s a fantastic person to work with. But, it’s time to move on,” said Hamilton, 32, a former press secretary to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“I’m going to take some time off, re-charge my batteries, enjoy the summer and then, we’ll see. I’ve been in public service my entire career. I find it tremendously rewarding. I can’t imagine it’s not something I would do in the future.”

Quinn said she’s well aware the communications job is a pressure-cooker. She also knows Emanuel is a task-master and that tough decisions lie ahead.

But, she’s turned on by the challenge and well prepared for it.

After ten years in the newspaper business, she moved to Chicago to work for the Daily Law Bulletin. That was followed by stints with: County Clerk David Orr; as state budget spokesperson under now-convicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich; County Assessor Joe Berrios; at the Chicago Public Schools and at the city’s Office of Budget and Management.

“The first crisis I ever handled was when Tony Peraica marched on the county building because the election results weren’t coming in fast enough. He was running against Todd Stroger the first year we started using electronic voting,” Quinn said.

“I stayed up all night working . . .with David Orr.  It was my first crisis and I loved it. I didn’t like the fact that the machines didn’t work. But, if you go back through my career you’ll see that I like challenges. It’s an adrenaline rush,” Quinn told the Sun-Times.

If and when Gov. Pat Quinn signs the Chicago pension bill, Emanuel will embark on the formidable task of convincing a reluctant City Council to approve his plan for a $250 million property tax increase.

After that, he’ll have to decide how to come up with a state-mandated, $600 million payment to shore up police and fire pension funds in even worse shape than the Municipal Employees and Laborers pension funds that the bill on Quinn’s desk is crafted to save.

All of that will have to be done during the course of, what could be a difficult re-election campaign.

“I know this is going to be a challenge, but I’m ready. And it certainly will not be dull,” she said.

“I jumped in feet first last summer when I came over here. I’ve been involved in pension issues from the get-go. There’s a lot more that has to be done. But, I’m good under pressure. And the mayor is not afraid to make difficult decisions. He’s willing to listen to ideas.”

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