Key aide to Harold Washington says mayor was disappointed with Quinn

Adrian G. Uribarri

January 22, 2010 @ 12:00 AM


Harold Washington

While Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign accused his leading opponent of misusing footage of former Mayor Harold Washington to make political points yesterday, a key insider in the Washington administration says the mayor's comments reflected a heartfelt disappointment with Quinn.


Alton Miller, speechwriter and press secretary for the late mayor, says Washington had a falling out with Quinn. The rift came after the mayor concluded Quinn was "posturing" and using his position as the city's revenue director as a personal bully pulpit.

"It's almost, kind of a paternal disappointment," Miller says. "Harold Washington thought he had another team player ... and became alarmed when he noticed that Quinn was talking to the media without ... sufficient coordination from the mayor's standpoint."

Quinn was in office as the U.S. Justice Department was investigating corruption in the city.

"He was saying that he was bringing a new broom to a mess, and he was going to clean it up and so forth," Miller says, "but he was posturing as a reformer as if he was independent of the adminstration and he was going to get to the bottom of whatever the problems were."

Miller was responding to an ad from Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes released yesterday.

The new TV spot features Washington, the city's first black mayor, using some harsh words against Quinn, then the city's revenue director. Washington, mayor from 1983 to 1987, says Quinn was fired from the position for his incompetence.

"I would never appoint Pat Quinn to do anything," Washington says in a 1987 interview. "Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual who thinks this government is nothing but a large easel by which he can do his PR work.

"He almost created a shambles in that department." Washington says. "He was dismissed. He should have been dismissed."

The statements are unequivocal and brash — perfect, really, for a short and negative television spot.

"If I'm Pat Quinn, I'm sh--ting my pants," says Miller. "It's a total nightmare for any candidate who expects support from the African American community."

Quinn campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Austin does acknowledge that Quinn resigned from his post as head of Chicago's revenue department after about eight months on the job. But she says it was because of Quinn's "gritty personal integrity."

"The late, great Mayor Harold Washington is spinning in his grave today," Austin says in a statement. "That Dan Hynes would use a 24 year-old news clip of a beloved figure to attack Gov. Quinn shows there is no limit to his negative campaigning."

Austin says that despite differences with the mayor, Quinn was actually a major Washington supporter.

"Pat Quinn was with Harold Washington from the start, long before it was the politically popular thing to do," says Jacky Grimshaw, the former mayor's director of intergovernmental affairs and 1987 campaign manager. "This episode in no way decreased the friendship and regard that Harold had for Pat Quinn.”

She also called the ad a display of "hypocrisy," recalling how Hynes' own father, Assessor Tom Hynes, tried to unseat Washington.

"During the Hynes family’s revolt against Democratic voters and their incumbent mayoral nominee, Dan Hynes joined his father in television ads targeting Harold Washington — whose election as mayor of the city of Chicago had changed history."

Regardless, Miller says the hypocrisy argument "will carry a tenth of the weight" of the ad itself.

He says Hynes' posthumous use of Washington's interview may not win him fans in the black community — but that ultimately, the ad will hurt Quinn more than him.

"There's always an element of backlash," Miller says, "but net, it's gotta be devastating."

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