It was a normal afternoon at Erik's Deli in Oak Park – normal in that Gov. Pat Quinn was there eating lunch.
Also normal in that the former governor was engrossed in a conversation with his two lunch mates about, you guessed it, Illinois politics.
Quinn was back to his old self, organizing and collecting petition signatures for two separate referendums for the city of Chicago – one would set term limits on the mayor's office and the other would elect a consumer advocate "who would be elected at-large by the people of Chicago to advocate for taxpayers and consumers," Quinn said.
"For anybody who lives in the city of Chicago, I think we need to make some fundamental changes," said Quinn, a resident of Chicago's Galewood neighborhood. "The only way to do that is by passing petitions, getting signatures and putting the referendum on the ballot."
Quinn took a break from his afternoon lunch at Erik's Deli, 107 N. Oak Park Ave., to answer a few impromptu questions.
Quinn said he's a big fan of Erik's, which he called "an institution in Oak Park" – he's also partial to George's Family Restaurant, 145 S. Oak Park Ave. The former governor said he's been coming to Erik's since he lived down the street at 216 N. Oak Park Ave., "about 35 years ago."
"I think it's a great community, Oak Park," he said. "My brother John [with whom Quinn was dining on Thursday afternoon] and I both went to Fenwick High School. John still teaches there after 36 years."
Quinn said he started his grassroots political efforts about 40 years ago in Oak Park and was successful in establishing the Citizen Utility Board, a statewide consumer advocate for residential utility customers, and the so-called "cutback amendment," which ended advance pay for state legislators.
"They used to take their whole year's salary on their first day in office," he said.
Asked about his political trajectory from grassroots organizer to the state's top elected official and back again, Quinn joked, "It's back to the future," with a laugh.
Had it not been for the work of grassroots petitioning, he said he likely never would have reached the governor's office in Springfield, noting that "Oak Park, River Forest and Chicago were all strong cities for us in gathering signatures."
Asked whether he plans to run against Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in the next election, Quinn hedged, but he didn't say no.
"It's hard to watch right now, just looking at what's happened to the budget or lack of a budget," he said. "The help for lots of vulnerable people in Illinois has been shredded by the current governor, and I think there are a lot of people who want to make a change."
As far as the presidential election goes, you can guess who Quinn's voting for.
"I'm with Hillary and Hillary is for us, and I think it's very important that we elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States, and there's only one way to do it – hard work and shoe leather," he said. "We can't take anything for granted. Part of it is getting people to vote. The more people that vote, I think the better chance to win."
Answer Book 2019
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