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posted: 8/28/2011 5:00 AM

Quinn-Emanuel spat not new for governors, mayors

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  • Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and then Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel shake hands at a March 18 news conference in Chicago. Emanuel, who badly wants a casino in Chicago, has repeatedly expressed impatience with Quinn's long deliberation over the measure. The governor has snapped back, telling the mayor to back off.

      Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and then Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel shake hands at a March 18 news conference in Chicago. Emanuel, who badly wants a casino in Chicago, has repeatedly expressed impatience with Quinn's long deliberation over the measure. The governor has snapped back, telling the mayor to back off.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

Not long ago, Gov. Pat Quinn was gushing about how he and newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would work together to improve Illinois.

Fast forward five months, and the two powerful Democrats are sniping at each other publicly, not only about the state's proposed gambling expansion, but who should pay to fix the crumbling infrastructure that left a sinkhole in one of the city's streets.

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It's the first public sign of tension between the two since Emanuel took office in May, but hardly a new phenomenon in Illinois politics.

Governors and Chicago mayors have bickered for years, like two powerful titans with muscles to flex, different agendas to push and different constituencies to please. At times it has involved personality clashes more than partisan politics, as Democratic mayors sometimes get along better with Republican governors.

Both Quinn and Emanuel downplayed the importance of their verbal sparring last week. But with Illinois in such bad financial shape, at stake is a Chicago casino that could be the biggest prize Quinn can deliver to Emanuel in the next four years, and some of their colleagues are praying the verbal sparring ends soon.

"This particular conflict threatens to get out of hand," said State Rep. Lou Lang, a suburban Chicago Democrat who is a chief sponsor of the gambling measure.

Lang said he thinks cooler heads will prevail because otherwise the two men risk spoiling their ability to help negotiate a resolution to the gambling legislation, which proponents say could bring millions in revenues to a number of communities throughout the state if Quinn signs it.

Emanuel, who badly wants a casino in Chicago, has repeatedly expressed impatience with Quinn's long deliberation over the measure. The governor has snapped back, telling the mayor to back off.

To veterans of Illinois politics, it's not exactly new, nor that worrisome.

"It should not surprise anybody that the governor of Illinois and the mayor of Chicago are going to have some disagreements," said former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who sparred with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley when the two were in office over everything from money and casinos to building a third Chicago airport.

Edgar said that even when he battled publicly with Daley, the communication never broke down between their offices.

When governors and mayors fight, regardless of their political party, it's often because of their vastly different priorities. A governor has to balance the interests of a state as diverse regionally as it is politically, while a mayor is looking out for his particularly complex fiefdom while still being dependent on the governor's signature for state money to pay for roads, education and other social services.

Sometimes personality differences drive a wedge. For example, Daley had virtually no working relationship with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, even publicly referring to his fellow Democrat as "cuckoo" before Blagojevich was impeached and convicted on federal corruption charges.

"I'm not sure any mayor could have worked through the peculiarities of dealing with our former governor," said Doug Scofield, a former aide to Blagojevich.

Of course, the former governor had famously strained relations with elected officials at all levels, often resulting in gridlock at the Illinois Capitol.

Quinn and Emanuel are still figuring out the dynamics of their working relationship, though they've known each other for years.

Until now, the two Democrats' interactions have been limited because they ran in very different political circles. Before Emanuel was elected mayor, he operated mostly at the federal level -- as President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, a congressman representing Chicago's North Side, a top aide to former President Bill Clinton and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Quinn has been focused more squarely on state government and policy issues during his time as state treasurer and lieutenant governor before being elected to his own term as governor last year.

The two have vastly different styles. Emanuel is known for his energy and quick decision-making, even bragging at his inauguration that he is "not a patient man." Quinn prefers a more methodical approach, and that's at the heart of the recent spat with Emanuel over the gambling expansion, which would add five casinos in Illinois, including the one in Chicago.

Lawmakers approved the gambling measure in the spring, but legislative leaders have yet to send it to the governor because they fear his veto. He has spent weeks meeting with proponents and opponents, saying he's trying to make up his mind even as he questions whether the measure allows for sufficient regulation of the added gambling.

After telling Emanuel to back off last week, Quinn went a step further and jabbed at the mayor for complaining about how much money the state gives the city for infrastructure projects.

"We're not going to have a situation where every community in Illinois that wants to fill its sinkholes or potholes wants a casino, you know. Come on," Quinn said.

At one appearance, Emanuel dismissed any suggestion the spat threatens to spoil his relationship with Quinn, and there is no evidence of personal animosity.

"It's not whether we get along or not," he said. "It's whether we get results. That's how I measure it."

The fact that Emanuel and Quinn are both Democrats could be part of the problem. Before Blagojevich, the state had a string of Republican governors who dealt with Democratic mayors without the additional challenge of intraparty rivalry.

Illinois' longest serving governor, Republican Jim Thompson, worked with five Democratic mayors of Chicago.

"I loved them all," he said in an interview.

Edgar says he chuckles when he reads about the spat between Quinn and Emanuel, remembering his relationship with Daley.

"I don't think I was his favorite governor," he said.

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