Gov. Pat Quinn’s has selected two relative outsiders as his first picks for behind-the-scenes staff. He named a social service advocate for children as his chief of staff and a former U.S. attorney whom he’d met less than a month ago as his chief legal counsel.
Jerry Stermer of Elmhurst said this morning that he accepted the chief of staff position because the administration would put “children first.” That’s rounding out Quinn’s agenda that, so far, has prioritized a capital construction program, a plan to chip away at the state’s $4 billion in unpaid bills, a yet-to-be announced education plan and an ethics reform package.
Stermer is the founder and 22-year president of Voices for Illinois Children, a privately funded group based in Chicago that advocates for health care and education. The group worked with former Gov. Jim Edgar in a failed attempt to change the state’s tax structure to fund public education, relying more on state income taxes and less on property taxes. The measure has been proposed numerous times in various forms since then, but Senate President John Cullerton, who now controls the flow of legislation in his chamber, is a proponent.
Stermer and Quinn acknowledged during a Chicago news conference this morning that taxes are on the table as part of a “rescue plan” for the state budget, but they also used the words “fairness strategy” to indicate tax breaks or deductions for low-income families. “We do want to have in Illinois a tax code that is fair to parents raising kids,” Quinn said. “I think I saw once that our state gives more tax breaks to those raising thoroughbred horses than it gives to parents raising children. We’re going to change that.”
Stermer’s group also worked with previous governors to increase the number of children with health insurance through state-sponsored programs, including former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s All Kids program. Stermer said the organization supported Blagojevich’s attempt to expand the FamilyCare benefits to middle-income families, although he did not take a stance on the legal challenge of whether Blagojevich overstepped his authority by skirting the legislature to do so.
Stermer’s background includes working for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from 1973 to 1979, followed by a supervisory position with the Legislative Advisory Committee on Public Aid. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in 1968 through 1970. He met Quinn in the 1970s, when he said in our profile of the soon-to-be governor that Quinn introduced him to working on campaigns of independent- and reform-minded people who ran against the Chicago Democratic machine.
Ted Chung of Highland Park said Quinn called “out of the blue” to offer him the job as chief legal counsel about three to four weeks ago. He said that could be an asset. “I don’t have a lot invested emotionally in this man,” he said alongside Quinn in the news conference. Because of that, he said, he will “absolutely” be willing to tell the governor “no” when needed. “When called for, not only to say no, but to say no very clearly, very loudly, very unambiguously.”
One of his jobs will be to work with the new Illinois Reform Council, which is expected to recommend a series of ethics reforms by mid-April.
Chung, among other positions within the City of Chicago, was Mayor Richard Daley’s former deputy chief of staff for public safety. He also worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois between 1998 and 2004. He graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and earned his law degree from Northwestern University Law School in Evanston. He was the editor in chief of the Northwestern University Law Review.