Herald & Review

Quinn feeling heat over dismissal of ethics official

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois Republicans are raising questions about the dismissal of an ethics inspector who had been investigating a top aide to Gov. Pat Quinn.

On Aug. 13, Quinn announced he was replacing Executive Inspector General James Wright. That's the same day Quinn was briefed about Wright's investigation of Jerry Stermer, the governor's then-chief of staff.

Stermer quit Sunday after "inadvertently" using his state account to send campaign-related e-mails. Stermer says he disclosed the "mistake."

Stermer's departure, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, became instant fodder in Quinn's bid for governor against Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.

"Today's revelation suggests that on the very day Pat Quinn was confronted with evidence by the Inspector General of an ethics violation, Pat Quinn put his political interests before citizens yet again and fired the Inspector General himself," said Brady campaign chief Jerry Clarke. "This disturbing report leads to a myriad of questions that the citizens of Illinois deserve to have answered."

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said the firing of Wright "cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence."

"Quinn was clearly trying to sweep this under the rug and hope no one would notice," Pat Brady added.

Quinn campaign spokeswoman Mica Matsoff denied the connection.
"Any implication that Wright's replacement is connected to Stermer's investigation is patently false," she wrote in a statement issued Monday afternoon.

Another spokesman for Quinn said the events "are in no way connected."

The problems began surfacing in October 2009, in the midst of Quinn's tough Democratic primary battle against Comptroller Dan Hynes.

According to copies of e-mails obtained by the Herald & Review's Springfield bureau, Stermer traded messages with campaign staffers on Oct. 10 and Oct. 11. In one, he used his state e-mail account to tell top campaign aides that he'd request information from the state budget office that could be used in the campaign.

In a Dec. 7 message to former Quinn campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Austin, Stermer also acknowledged he reviewed a campaign questionnaire.

Stermer isn't the first top Quinn lieutenant to leave after apparently mixing campaign work with state work.

In November, longtime aide Carolyn Brown Hodge resigned after inspectors removed her computer from her office.

"It does raise questions," said Republican state Sen. Dan Rutherford, who is a candidate for state treasurer. "We need to stop this problem that's existed in this state."

"I was kind of surprised by it, to say the least," said Republican Judy Baar Topinka, a former state treasurer and candidate for state comptroller. "We've had enough examples of bad government and corruption and playing short and swift with the rules out there."

Matsoff said Quinn's acceptance of Stermer's resignation is proof the governor is ethical.

"Governor Quinn has built his career on the belief that government must be honest and accountable. This is why he accepted Mr. Stermer's resignation. Everyone in the Governor's Office must be accountable," she noted.

"This is the latest attempt by the Brady bunch to mislead the public and score political points," Matsoff added.