CHICAGO—The first time I met Mike Quigley, who won Tuesday's Democratic primary to replace Rahm Emanuel in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was feuding with his local sheriff.
Quigley was one of 17 members of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, representing a liberal lakefront district full of gays and young professionals. The sheriff was an old Irish machine pol from an ethnic ward. Quigley was peeved at the sheriff for tolerating deputies who strip-searched female prisoners, an abuse that cost the county $6.8 million in lawsuits.
"Sheriff's mad at me because I'm telling the world he's a sexist, racist, homophobic bad guy," Quigley barked. "He's created an atmosphere of excessive force, that might makes right."
Quigley is a short, pugnacious guy with a blocky mug who likes to brag that he's taken 300 stitches from playing ice hockey. (At 50, he still plays in a pickup league.) In a decade on the county board—not to be confused with the 50-member City Council, home to that world-famous character, the "Chicago alderman"—he's built an image as a pesky reformer who rages against the Chicago machine.
That's not entirely true. Quigley got his start as the protégé of a city alderman who helped lead the white resistance against Mayor Harold Washington. But, smarting with shame from the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the appointment of Sen. Roland Burris, Chicago voters were looking for a Chicago politician who didn't remind them too much of a Chicago politician. Quigley fits the bill.
"After all the recent embarrassments, this was the first chance that the voters had to voice their desire for change and they spoke loud and clear," Quigley told the Chicago Tribune. "They came through for me, and now I have to come through for them."
In a 12-candidate field, Quigley won with 22 percent of the vote. His most serious rivals were a pair of state legislators who had more money and more endorsements from labor and ward bosses. But sitting on the county board was a huge advantage for Quigley because it gave him a chance to pick a fight with the most hated man in Chicago politics: Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
Stroger is the son of the last board president, John Stroger, so he represents the nepotism that Chicagoans claim to be weary of but always end up voting for. And last year, Stroger pushed through a one-cent increase that raised Chicago's sales tax to 10.25 percent, the highest of any big city in the nation. Quigley voted against it.
When Stroger first took office in 2007, Quigley tried to support him, even voting for his first budget. But getting along with the powerful is not Quigley's style. After exactly a month, the alliance disintegrated in a public shouting match over a plan to transfer $13 million from the Forest Preserve District to the county's general fund. "From here we part," Quigley declared melodramatically.
Stroger accused Quigley of trying to "stab me in the back," which is an endorsement in most parts of Chicago. Quigley's campaign ad didn't target his opponents. It asked, "Who's been taking on Todd Stroger?"