Mike Quigley isn't quite Rahm Emanuel, but he's not Rod Blagojevich, either.

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March 4 2009 3:58 PM

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Mike Quigley isn't quite Rahm Emanuel, but he's not Rod Blagojevich, either.

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An anti-authoritarian reformer may seem like a strange choice for the 5th District, which has had a lineage of slick operators: Its last three Democratic representatives were Dan Rostenkowski, Blagojevich, and Emanuel. But the northwest side of Chicago has changed since the days of Rosty and Blago. It's been colonized by young professionals who crowd into lakefront apartments during their post-collegiate party years then migrate up the district's main El line in search of quieter neighborhoods and more spacious condos. They are independent voters who don't need the favors a ward office dispenses. Quigley is one of them: He grew up in the suburbs, moved to the city as a young man, and, as a politician, became a staunch supporter of gays, women, and the environment.

Each of Quigley's main opponents tried to reanimate an element of the old 5th District coalition. State Rep. John Fritchey had the most ward organizations (including one run by his wife's uncle). State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz was backed by the Service Employees International Union. Dr. Victor Forys created huge excitement among the Polish population, which has never completely forgiven the lakefront liberals for voting out Rostenkowski. But even though the Polish-language hotline rang off the hook at the Board of Elections, Forys got only 12 percent, evidence of his community's dwindling influence.

(Labor lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan had a passionate fan club of liberal journalists, including Joe Conason of Salon, Thomas Frank of the Wall Street Journal, and Slate's own Mickey Kaus. None of them live in the 5th District, which may explain why Geoghegan pulled an anemic 6 percent. Chicagoans will vote for a reformer, but they won't vote for a goo-goo.)

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On April 7, Quigley will flick away his Republican opponent, anti-immigrant activist Rosanna Pulido. After that, he can stay in Congress as long as he wants. The 5th is as Democratic as any white-majority district in the nation, and a primary challenge is unlikely. Quigley had no serious policy differences with his rivals, who were mostly staunch advocates of expanding access to health care and of President Obama's stimulus package.

But once he gets to Washington, Quigley is going to be the most junior member of the House. He's going to have to keep his voice down. For at least a month.