THE BLOG

Why Are Leaky Pipes Political Gold for Gov. Pat Quinn?

01/17/2013 12:24 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2013

Leaky pipes can be a politician's best friend.

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel at his side, Governor Pat Quinn on Wednesday announced a low-interest, long-term $15 million loan to the city of Chicago to replace seven miles of aging, leaking, wheezing water pipeline, a project that could also help extend the life-span of Quinn's lease on the governor's mansion.

"Our commitment to clean water will allow a few hundred skilled laborers to roll up their sleeves and get to work replacing obsolete piping from 55th Street all the way to North Avenue," said Quinn.

Chicago has one of the oldest water systems in the nation.

About 900 miles of the 4,230-mile network are a century old; 400 miles of pipes were laid before 1890. When some pipes were laid, Ulysses S. Grant was president. And Chicago Department of Water Management is using the proceeds of the loan for improvements to its drinking water system at 20 of the Grant-era sites.

And in exchange for helping to plug his pipe holes, the mayor vouched for the governor's upbeat "jobs, jobs, jobs" message.

"By investing in our infrastructure we are investing in our future, and this loan will help upgrade more water mains and put more people to work in 2013," said Emanuel, singing from Quinn's hymn book.

And organized labor beamed during Quinn's announcement with an eye on the union work being boosted by the project.

"The jobs created by the Clean Water Initiative are good-paying jobs, since a prevailing wage requirement is part of every project," said Jim Coyne, business manager of Plumbers Local 130.

Quinn proposed the Clean Water Initiative during his 2012 State of the State Address, ordering the expansion of the State Revolving Fund from $300 million to $1 billion annually.

In addition to the plumbers, the project is a boon for Chicago-area pipefitters and pipe trades, operating engineers, ironworkers, laborers and carpenters -- all powerful players in a Democratic primary.

Despite Quinn's battle with AFSCME Council 31 over the Illinois pension system and the fractious negotiations over the new AFSCME contract, the governor has remained on good terms with the trade unions through the billions of dollars that he has invested in infrastructure projects around Illinois.

And the trade unions, like the pipe trades, have remained generous donors to Quinn's campaign account.

"We're putting thousands of unionized building trades workers back to work...," said Illinois Finance Authority Executive Director Chris Meister.

And the trade workers may help keep Quinn in his job in 2014.

Good government remains good politics.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com