More than five months after saying she wouldn’t return as Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon announced Wednesday she would seek the Democratic comptroller nomination but wouldn’t say if she backs her boss for re-election.
Simon’s decision to run for comptroller sets up a potential November 2014 matchup against Republican incumbent Judy Baar Topinka. Simon wanted to run for attorney general, but those hopes ended when Attorney General Lisa Madigan opted to seek re-election rather than run for governor.
During a brief announcement at a Loop hotel, Simon would not say whether she would make an endorsement in the Democratic governor primary between Quinn and Bill Daley, the son and brother of former Chicago mayors.
“What I’m doing today is focusing on running for comptroller. It’s going to be a long campaign. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss the politics of it further,” she told reporters.
Simon, a lawyer and former law professor at Southern Illinois University, also refused to take a side in the legal dispute between Quinn and the legislature’s top two Democrats over the governor’s decision to veto lawmaker pay until a solution to the state’s massive unfunded public employee pension liability is reached.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton filed suit Tuesday against Quinn, contending the governor’s veto of salaries was unconstitutional.
“I think the governor has the power to amendatory veto what he did. I think the legislature has the option to file a suit. What I wish we would all be doing is focusing on pension reform,” Simon said.
She said she agreed with Topinka’s decision not to issue paychecks to lawmakers Thursday because of the lack of an appropriation.
Simon, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, was selected by Quinn as his running mate in 2010 to replace pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen, who dropped from the ticket following revelations about his checkered past.
“It’s time we had a comptroller who doesn’t just talk about transparency but lives it,” Simon said, citing her father’s reputation for ethics. “It’s time we have a comptroller who provides not just accounting but accountability. We need a tough fiscal watchdog who holds government accountable.”
Simon contended Topinka, a veteran politician who is in her first term as comptroller, has failed to serve a watchdog role over local government accounting. Simon specifically cited the looting of Dixon’s coffers by city Comptroller Rita Crundwell of nearly $54 million over 22 years. Crundwell was sentenced earlier this year to almost 20 years in prison.
“Where was the (state) comptroller’s office?” Simon asked. “Their office said they didn’t review the information, they’re just a repository and that’s it. Well that’s not good enough.”
Topinka spokesman Brad Hahn said Dixon public officials conducted required independent audits and signed off on them.
“Sheila Simon has been shopping for an office for months and it appears she settled on this one,” Hahn said. “We welcome her to the discussion but Comptroller Topinka said all along she’s running for re-election and views the office as more than a consolation prize.”