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Rahm’s Replacement: A Feisty Environmentalist With a Knack for Dissent

Chicago Democrat Mike Quigley won an easy victory yesterday in the contest to replace now-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the House of Representatives. The Cook County commissioner took nearly 70 percent of the vote with almost all districts reporting.

In the various reports floating around in the wake of the win, Quigley is described as “reform-minded,” “waste-fighting” and “a rabble-rouser.” And while all those portraits are apt, he told me in a December 2004 interview that he joined politics for a singular reason: to fight for the environment.

It wasn’t easy at first. Elected to the 17-member Cook County board in 1998, the decidedly un-Machine force of Quigley scrapped endlessly with the more entrenched Democrats on the panel — often in vain. The toe-the-party-line philosophy never sat well with him, he said, and he endured countless 16 to 1 votes in his early years on the board. “How many [board members] never vote no?” he said in the interview. “How many never introduce an ordinance?” He was incredulous.

Yet his knack for dissent didn’t interfere with his effectiveness as a legislator. Despite his black-sheep status in his first term, Quigley somehow managed to get every single one of his proposals passed, he told me in 2004. Quigley’s recipe for success is informative as he now heads to Washington.

“I never wanted to be the individualist who goes down in a flaming ball of martyrdom,” he said. “Fuck the good fight. Get something done.”

Quigley is scheduled to be sworn in April 21.

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