One of the treasures Pat Quinn has on his desk is a “bow tie” that the daughter of the late Senator Paul Simon gave him. Like his role model, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn is a rarity?”a politician who has maintained his credibility and integrity. As a resident of the North Austin community, 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.
Following is part two of a conversation with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn:
AWN: What pros and cons do you see with Wal-Mart coming to the Austin community?
Quinn: Well, we’re always happy to see business. We want businesses to do well and make a profit. We also want them to play fair with their workers and their customers. I’ve worked with Wal-Mart in all parts of Illinois, and they’re coming to do business in Chicago. We want them to understand that the workers deserve health care, the customers deserve fair prices and a fair wage in terms of the marketplace. I would hope that Wal-Mart would look at all parts of the world when they’re purchasing their goods. China is fine. We trade with China, and there is nothing wrong with that, [but] we don’t want Wal-Mart to just have a single focus on buying goods from China to bring here to our country. There are American manufacturers of goods and services, and we want make sure Wal-Mart is looking at all of their suppliers, so they don’t favor one country over ours.
Sometimes you have to talk with Wal-Mart and spell out the importance of good jobs in America and treating American consumers fairly and then, conversely, the folks who work for Wal-Mart. We honor hard work. If you’re able-bodied and you’re breathing, we want you working in Illinois.
Wal-Mart does create jobs, and that’s good. We want those jobs to pay decent wages, with decent benefits. We don’t want to see a situation in Illinois where our Medicaid program is paid for by the taxpayers?”lots and lots of workers. Wal-Mart and some other companies say, “I’m not giving health insurance with their job.” We’d like to see private companies, not just Wal-Mart, other companies as well?”make sure when you’re working hard to help that company make a profit, that those profits are shared with those who made it possible. That includes not only decent wages, but fair pensions and also making sure people get decent benefits, health care in-particular.
That’s an opportunity for us on the West Side. Wal-Mart is going to be on North Avenue. Got to roll up our sleeves and make sure we’re together.
AWN: There is a fear on the West Side of gentrification. Economic growth can be good, but are there reasons for residents to fear?
Quinn: We can’t run [out] people who’ve been loyal to the neighborhood, gone to the churches, patronized the local merchants, sponsored the local sport teams for kids. We can’t see those good loyal people moved out of their neighborhoods when gentrification comes along. We’re happy to see homes that are being rehabilitated and remodeled, new businesses coming in, but there has to be a balance so that the longtime loyal residents are honored and have a role to play in the community. Economic growth is great as long as the people who are there now don’t get displaced. I’m against the situation where there is wholesale replacement of folks who are the heart and soul of a neighborhood. Austin has deep roots in Chicago and Illinois, and we’ve got to have folks who remember that history. In South Austin I worked so many years with the South Austin [Coalition]. They worked on a lot of initiatives to help with utilities reform. Bob Vondrasek is executive director and went to the same high school as I?”Fenwick High School.
Gail Cincotta was one of the original founders of South Austin Coalition. I knew Gail. She’s passed on now, I miss her every day, but what a neighborhood leader and an inspiration to our country. She came from the West Side, and we’ll always honor her goodwill for many years to come.
AWN: What are your feelings about the Chicago Public Schools movement to make schools smaller?
Quinn: Smaller high schools work better. I’m going to a conference out in North Carolina this fall. I’ve been invited there by the former governor to take a look at the small schools movement. Sometimes they have a school within a school. We don’t want to lose kids, particularly in high school. Sometimes kids start off freshman year, they are all fired up, [and] by senior year some have dropped out and some are just unenthused about education. We can’t lose those young men and women.
I was just on an aircraft carrier out in the Pacific Ocean, and I was so impressed by the sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan, which was just commissioned, and the teamwork that is involved. The average age of the sailors was 20 years old, and they work as a team. They got out of high school and joined the service. We have to make sure our high schools are teaching kids, and they’re learning lessons, including discipline. And so I’m very much interested. I was on the local school council of my neighborhood?”Sayre Grammar School. I was very happy to serve on that in 1990. And I want to make sure our high schools particularly are taking kids who come out of grammar school and advancing their education.
AWN: Recently Laura Bush visited Austin, and the city came out and cleaned up the neighborhood, yet her visit was not publicized. Any comment on this?
Quinn: They came out and cleaned the neighborhood, bless their hearts. I didn’t know about that visit myself, and I’m the Lt. Governor. So I don’t know if that was deliberate on the part of the White House. I would think someone who is an elected official of 13 million people in Illinois, the Lt. Governor who lives in the neighborhood and knows all about Austin High School, I would have liked to be there to welcome the First Lady. I will say one thing about Laura Bush, she does believe in reading. She was a school librarian in her younger days, and I believe readers are leaders. If you want to help a young boy or girl get off to a good start, give them a book. When they’re little, read to them and then when they’re a little bit bigger, have them read to you.
AWN: Does the governor support your community efforts?
Quinn: With respect to my service in Illinois, he kind of gives me a free hand, latitude to do what I think is best for the communities of our state. I’m grateful for that. I have a lot of liberty to go across Illinois, go across the country if necessary, to help everyday people.
One of the good events I think we’ve done this summer, an event that the Austin Weekly covered, was the Juneteenth celebration. Every year we want to have people remember that the freedom we enjoy today was oftentimes purchased by the courage of our ancestors, the men and women of our country who were forced into slavery, and we had to fight slavery in every way imaginable. They should be honored. We have to realize this stain on the Declaration of Independence. We have to realize that the process of freedom is ongoing.
AWN: What is your vision for the Austin community in 10 years?
Quinn: Well, we have to make sure we have well educated young men and women who are healthy. All of us need good health care?”education and good health care are two very important missions. State government is involved in both of those on a daily basis. And I think our community, which is a good one today, can be even better tomorrow if we work together as teammates. We want to make sure that our children can take on the task of the 21st century and handle them with ease and great courage.
AWN: What are your long-range plans?
Quinn: The short run and the long run is to get up in the morning and work as hard as I can, to promote the public interest of Illinois. I believe that the highest office in our state is the office of “citizen,” not governor, not lieutenant governor. And the duty of those who are in elected office like Lt. Governor is to strengthen the citizens of Illinois. How can we make them stronger? Better educated, healthier, way of the world. So that’s what I want to do every day. We may have to take on the utility companies and powerful interests when they’re getting out of line. Tell the corporations to step back and let the people come through. Whatever the bureaucracy is, it may be in the way of the public interest. That’s a great Austin tradition?”early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize.
Thanks to Mr. Quinn’s staff for helping to arrange this interview, especially Peter Newell and Chinta Strausberg.