Lt. Governor Pat Quinn is an anomaly and a rarity”a politician who has maintained his credibility and integrity. As a resident of the North Austin community, Pat Quinn is no stranger to Chicagoans. Many residents first remember hearing his name when the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) was created in 1983 by the Illinois General Assembly. The Citizens Utility Board represents the interests of residential customers across the state and Quinn was the one individual who spearheaded this consumer drive. He could really be called the founding father of CUB.
When Governor Rod Blagojevich selected Pat Quinn for his Lieutenant Governor it sent a signal that his administration wanted to reach out to the grassroots. He has been a voice, a mentor, and an advocate. Pat Quinn’s time has come.
Following is part one of a conversation with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn:
AWN: Are you a native of Chicago and how long have you been in the public arena?Quinn: I was born on the South Side of Chicago, in South Shore. My dad’s job got transferred to the suburbs so I grew up in the western suburbs. I attended Fenwick High School right on the border of Chicago. After college, I went to Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. I was a freshman and a fellow by the name of William Jefferson Clinton was a senior at Georgetown when I was there, and he became president of the United States. Later on when I got to know President Clinton, I told him I was there at the same time he was and every speech he made when I was in the audience, he’d always recognize me and mention Georgetown. I now do reside in Chicago and have for the last 22 years in North Austin. We have a great block and a great neighborhood. We have people of all walks of life. We’re going to have our block party next week”Black, White, Asian and Hispanic. It’s one of the best blocks in the city as far as I’m concerned. I do say in speeches, ‘I was born on the South Side; I now live on the best side, the West Side of Chicago. We’re very proud of Austin and our neighborhood.
I have two kids, divorced, my children are in college. Oldest son is 22 years old named Patrick, and David is 20. they both go to college in Pennsylvania.
I’ve been active in the public arena [since] I first went to college in 1967. I was at Georgetown”pretty hard not to be in the public arena when you’re in a city like Washington and at that time in our country’s history. As far as Illinois politics, it was really after college. I graduated in 1971 [and] worked in the campaign of Dan Walker for governor. I was an organizer, I lived in East St. Louis, Ill. in the southwest of our state and was an organizer there the year that he ran as a candidate. I was on his staff for a couple of years. I was active in quite a few petition drives”one of the more famous ones was the petition and referendum campaign to start the Citizen Utility Board.
April 12, 1983 was really a historic day. 1) My first son Patrick was born, 2) A fellow by the name of Harold Washington was elected mayor, and 3) 114 communities of Illinois voted for the Citizen Utility Board referendum and helped get the law passed for us. I’ve been active in Illinois politics as an organizer of referendums, candidate for various offices, state treasurer prior to lt. governor, and before that I was commissioner of the Board of Tax Appeals of Cook County.”
AWN: You have been a “one man” champion for our veterans lately. Where do you get the strength to attend funerals, visit hospitals and families? Have you considered writing a book about your experiences with veterans?Quinn: “Well, we have a lot of help I should say. The men and women who wear the uniform of our country deserve our salute every day, our thanks, our gratitude for their service. I’ve seen firsthand, for example our soldiers in Iraq, the hardships they have to endure. I visited our soldiers in Iraq about a year and a half ago, and I think it’s important that we in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, follow the words of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. He said that it’s the duty of all of us on the homefront to take care of the soldiers and the families who bear the battle on the front line. He said that during the Civil War but it really holds fast today, that we on the homefront should take care of the family and soldiers who are fighting for us. And yes, that does involve attending funerals of our soldiers we’ve lost 98 soldiers (Illinois) in the global war against terrorisms since Sept. 11, 2001, I try to attend the funerals and wakes of our soldiers”really on behalf of the people of Illinois to express our condolences and sympathy to the families.
We have to remember each and every one of our soldiers and veterans. They are true American heroes, and part of that is visiting veterans in hospitals. I’ve been to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. On several occasions going through the wards there, you see soldiers who have lost limbs. In some cases they’ve lost their vision or their hearing and some cases they’ve suffered grievous brain injuries. So it’s very, very important that we as a state reach out to those soldiers and to their families and help them in any way possible.
[There is] a program in West Virginia where they have a lottery ticket, citizens for $1 can play a scratch-off lottery game. It’s called the veterans game. We’ll have one of those in Illinois. It’s going to be called the Veterans Health Initiative and all the proceeds of this game will go to help veterans’ health in Illinois, [for] post-traumatic stress disorder, a very serious affliction [among] veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf War and now these conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are good programs to help our veterans recover. Sometimes they have nightmares about their experiences. We have a problem in Illinois with our young veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. When they’re discharged, they have no health insurance, they’re not in the V.A. system. They may be working for Wal-Mart or somebody like that and they don’t get insurance through work. We want to have veterans’ health care. And finally, one-fourth of the homeless in our state are veterans. We want to work on programs to help our homeless.
As far as writing a book, I hadn’t even thought of that until you asked the question. But it isn’t such a bad idea”put a book together to maybe help other government officials with ideas on how they in their state or their region can help military families and veterans.
Along those lines, on Nov. 7 of this year, we’re sponsoring a nationwide conference on helping military families and soldiers. We’re going to invite governors and lt. governors across the country to come here to Illinois and participate in a conference where we can share some of our ideas and learn from other states as well.
AWN: How important is it for partnerships to develop between Austin and Oak Park?Quinn: Real important. I’m glad you asked that question. Every day I leave Austin where I live, I drive through Oak Park, even when I’m taking the el, Oak Park and Austin are bound together. The church I belong to is St. Giles, and St. Giles has members from both Chicago and Oak Park. And I think it’s important that we see ourselves not as two separate communities going our separate ways. We’re really a community of shared values, and I think that’s quite important that we work with Oak Park and folks in Chicago, that we band together. One young fellow at our church was doing a Eagle Scout project to help send care packages to our servicemen and women in Iraq. People from the parish from both Chicago and Oak Park helped that out.
We do a lot in this office with food banks and food pantries. You know many, many citizens in Illinois work 52 weeks a year and need a little bit of help from the food pantry to get through the month to make sure their families get enough to eat.
Our state has great agriculture, and we work a great deal with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It’s a wonderful organization, kind of a warehouse for over 600 food pantries in our particular area. We’ve given them several grants to improve their capacity, their computers and make sure we get fresh food, helpful food for everyone who needs it.
Whether it’s food for the needy or helping our military families and sending care packages to soldiers or fighting to make sure people get a fair shake on utilities, it doesn’t particularly matter if you live in Oak Park or Chicago. We want to make sure the gas company, the phone company and the electric company are giving a fair shake to their customers, so these are issues that tie people together and bring them together.”
AWN: Do you know what is happening with the Brach Candy building?Quinn: I was there not too long ago with the community, the unions. I’m concerned about Brach. That company received for many years subsidies from government to modernize their plant, and they said one day, ‘Hey, we’re leaving. We’re going to another country. Too much of that goes on in our country today where firms, corporations get subsidies and tax breaks, then they pull up stakes and move to China, Mexico or somewhere else around the world. I think we have to have provisions that say, listen, if you’re not going to keep the jobs here in our country, if you’re going to take the privileges and tax breaks and then run off to a foreign country, then you’re going to have to pay us back. We’re not just going to let you transfer jobs overseas with subsidies from the American taxpayers.
I think we have a great opportunity in our own backyard on the West Side of Chicago to build what I’m very interested in, and that’s renewable energy. This is energy that comes from wind power, sun, solar power, opportunities to have energy efficiency in buildings. Bethel organization on West Lake Street [at Pulaski] is a perfect example. They are far reaching, forward thinking, and we need to do that with everything that we can.
When people are rehabbing a house or commercial building, we want them to think green, think about how they can make this energy-efficient, how to use solar power and wind power. That creates jobs, jobs that pay a decent wage.
This past week we were able to get the Illinois Commerce Commission to adopt a rule telling the utility companies that by 2013, eight percent of their energy has to come not from coal or from nuclear, but from green sources and also as part of that rule, it’s taking new opportunities that we have for energy efficiency and having goals and targets for them as well. This is good for the West Side, good for Austin, good for everybody in Illinois. This creates jobs that don’t move offshore. These are jobs that are being paid with wages right here in Illinois.