Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley is poised for a promotion to Congress after claiming the Democratic nomination Tuesday in the race to replace Rahm Emanuel, overcoming disadvantages in campaign cash and union support.
The 5th Congressional District's special primary yielded low voter turnout after a two-month campaign—potentially a plus for Quigley, who started the race as the best-known of the dozen Democrats because of his battles with two Stroger administrations.
With 99 percent of precincts counted, Quigley had 22 percent in the crowded field.
Quigley credited his campaign's reform message, saying it spoke to the mood of voters in the wake of Illinois political scandals.
"After all the recent embarrassments, this was the first chance that the voters had to voice their desire for change and they spoke loud and clear," Quigley told the Tribune. "They came through for me, and now I have to come through for them."
The heavily Democratic district Quigley likely will inherit is an ethnically and culturally diverse territory that stretches from Lake Michigan to suburbs near O'Hare International Airport, encompassing blue-collar, bungalow-belt neighborhoods as well as more upscale Lincoln Park and Lakeview.
An April 7 special general election will pit Quigley against little-known Republican and Green Party candidates, but the 5th District has backed Democratic presidential candidates with at least two-thirds of the vote in all three elections this decade.
Yet not even Democrats seemed too fired up about Tuesday's tilt, a contest that came less than four months after a historic presidential election that sent Chicagoan Barack Obama to the White House. Emanuel left Congress to be White House chief of staff, setting off the sprint campaign to succeed him.
At one point Tuesday, a Chicago elections spokesman described polling places as "eerily quiet." Roughly 1 in 6 registered voters cast a ballot.
State Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) enjoyed strong backing from organized labor and several Democratic ward bosses, but appeared headed toward a second-place finish. Quigley was easily outspent by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who also had the backing of the Service Employees International Union. She came in third. Farther back was Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), a longtime ally of Mayor Richard Daley.
Neither Emanuel nor Daley publicly endorsed in the primary. Unlike past elections, where machine candidates were heavily favored, this race was a free-for-all. The primary field included 12 Democrats, six Republicans and five Green Party candidates, running for a post that has been held by some of the city's most famous and infamous politicians.
The district's history is a quintessential piece of Chicago's political fabric. The eventual winner joins a line of past representatives that includes Dan Rostenkowski, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 1996 and served federal prison time, and Rod Blagojevich, the recently ousted governor who is charged in a federal criminal investigation.
Quigley, 50, grew up in Carol Stream but started his political career in Chicago, working as an aide to establishment Ald. Bernard Hansen (44th) while studying for his master's degree in public policy at the University of Chicago.
Like Emanuel, he is media savvy, quick to offer a tip or pointed quote. But Quigley also is a wonk, known for writing policy papers on such arcane topics as tax-increment financing and government restructuring.
Throughout the campaign, Quigley pushed what he considers to be strong credentials as a reformer, someone willing to take on entrenched power. He also relentlessly trumpeted his endorsements from the editorial pages of the city's two major newspapers.
Quigley lost a 1991 aldermanic bid, but he was elected to the County Board in 1998. He briefly challenged then-County Board President John Stroger before dropping out and supporting ally Forrest Claypool, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary.
Quigley, who enjoys playing hockey, lives with his wife, Barbara, and two daughters in the Lakeview neighborhood.
The top spender in the race, Feigenholtz won the early support of EMILY's List, a national group that helps elect women through campaign contributions and other assistance. She also poured $100,000 of her own money into the campaign. The Service Employees International Union spent about $250,000 on TV ads and phone calls to boost her campaign.
Leading in the race for the Republican nomination was Rosanna Pulido, who has called for stricter enforcement of Immigration laws. She led Tom Hanson, who describes himself as a "liberal Republican."
The leading Green Party candidates were anti-war activist Matt Reichel and Deb Leticia Gordils.
Tribune reporters Monique Garcia and Susan Kuczka contributed to this report.