03/04/2009 01:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

While I Was Out Lecturing

Those of you who follow my very occasional Twittering know that I flew to Chicago last Thursday to give a lecture at a class at Loyola University Chicago. I want to share a slightly off-topic story from that visit.

I got to the classroom a few minutes early. One of the two lecturers who teaches Loyola's Political Science 300, Managing Political Campaigns, showed up a few minutes later and greeted me. Friendly but a little gruff, looking a bit weary and casually dressed, he bantered with the students as they straggled in. He began by reminding the class that their term paper would be due right after Spring Break (their collective choice, apparently), teased them about the distractions this would cause while applying "cocoa butter," and offered some guidelines for source material. Then his co-lecturer introduced me, and I gave my talk about how surveys work and how political campaigns use polling.

The scene resembled any other small undergraduate classroom, except for one thing: The lecturer that greeted me was Mike Quigley. In addition to teaching this class, Quigley was also serving as a Cook County Commissioner and running for Congress in a Democratic primary election to be held just five days later. Last night, he finished first in a field of 12, a win that is tantamount to victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic 5th District of Illinois.

A little background: Quigley's co-lecturer for PoliSci 300, Peter Giangreco, has been a close friend of mine since we both worked on Gary Hart's presidential campaign as undergraduates at the University of Michigan in 1984. Pete is now a Chicago based political consultant whose firm, The Strategy Group, played a leading role in the Obama campaign. When Pete called me last year and invited me to give a guest lecture to his class, I was happy to oblige. Coming back this year was a similar no-brainer.

Mike Quigley I have met only twice: In that same classroom last year and last week. And, to be honest, I was amazed that Quigley showed up at all last Thursday, given the intense nature of a Congressional campaign in its final week. I know well how grueling and all-consuming a race for Congress can be. As I was about to leave, I had to ask how he found the time and energy to continue teaching.

Quigley shrugged. "Some of these kids need the credits to graduate," he said. He felt he simply could not abandon their class just because of how own unexpected career development.   

In endorsing Quigley in mid-February, the Chicago Sun Times described him as "the real deal," and offered an observation entirely consistent with my very brief impression:

Issues aside, what's perhaps most refreshing about Quigley is, oddly, his lack of political charm.

He doesn't exactly light up a room. Or even smile much.

He is what he is, a scrappy policy wonk who actually cares about the stuff he fights for. Not a guy who has glommed on to these issues because they're polling well.

So there, maybe this is "on-topic" after all. If Quigely takes his Congressional duties as seriously as his commitment to the students in Loyola's PoliSci 300, the voters of the 5th District will be very fortunate.