A portrait of former Gov. Pat Quinn was unveiled Monday in the Hall of Governors at the state Capitol in Springfield.
There are no plans, however, to add a formal likeness of Quinn any time soon to the Hall of Governors at Governors State University in south suburban University Park, a school representative said.
That’s too bad. I think it’s a shame a decent public servant like Quinn won’t be recognized alongside 39 other past Illinois governors dating back to the first, Shadrach Bond, who served from 1818 to 1822.
Walking through the Hall of Governors at GSU is like stepping back in time, in more ways than one. One can learn about local connections to state history, like how the name of a south suburban community was inspired by Gov. Joel Aldrich Matteson, who served from 1853 to 1857.
The beautiful bronze reliefs of past state leaders include Richard James Oglesby, who served three terms: from 1865 to 1869, in 1873, and from 1885 to 1889. There’s a city in LaSalle County named after Oglesby.
Some fine people have served as Illinois governor. There’s John Peter Altgeld, who some view as a champion of liberty and justice.
Altgeld pardoned some men he felt received unfair trials when they were convicted for murder in connection with the 1886 Haymarket Riot. The Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Gardens public housing complex is named in his honor.
Altgeld was controversial. Conservatives hated him. Some called him an anarchist for pardoning labor union activists.
Others who served more recently are honored with public facilities named after them. Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served from 1949 to 1953, is the namesake for a stretch of I-55 we all know from daily traffic reports as the Stevenson Expressway.
In Morris, you can visit William G. Stratton State Park, named after the 32nd governor. Stratton served from 1953 to 1961 and is credited with building the state’s interstate highways.
GSU’s Hall of Governors is filled with portraits of men who stood for principles and built things. Not all of them upheld the public trust. The hall includes a portrait of George Ryan, who gained international attention for a 1999 moratorium on executions and who commuted more than 160 death sentences to life sentences.
Ryan was later convicted of federal corruption charges and served more than five years in prison for his role in the “Licenses for Bribes” scandal involving his earlier tenure as Illinois secretary of state.
The scandal and conviction tarnished Ryan’s legacy and reputation. I’ll be surprised if any highways, public buildings, towns or state parks are named after Ryan. Yet despite his flaws, he was governor, and he’s included in the Hall of Governors at GSU.
Ryan, however, may be the last state leader to have his portrait included in GSU’s Hall of Governors. The hall, itself, might be considered a time capsule because it chronicles the service of governors from 1818 through 2003 and may never again be updated.
“We’ve not updated the gallery in the Hall of Governors since Ryan, and updating has not been a topic of discussion under the current budget circumstances,” Keisha Dyson, GSU assistant vice president for marketing and communications, said in response to my inquiry.
In 2010, GSU was asked whether a likeness of Rod Blagojevich would be added to the Hall of Governors. This was more than a year after the General Assembly impeached Blagojevich following his 2008 arrest by federal agents.
Blagojevich, who appeared on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” after leaving office, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was convicted in 2011 of misusing his powers as governor in an array of wrongdoing, including most notably his attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after his 2008 election as president, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Blagojevich is the only former governor who does not have an official portrait in the state Capitol in Springfield.
Seven years ago, GSU said there were no plans at the time to include Blagojevich in its Hall of Governors because of financial constraints. That explanation deftly allowed the school to skirt the need to debate whether Blagojevich’s accomplishments outweighed his faults.
Apparently, once you gain entry to the Hall of Governors, you’re in for good, as Ryan’s bronze portrait still hangs on the wall, despite his corruption conviction.
But entry into the club is another matter of debate. In Springfield, one can conclude that no official portrait of Blagojevich will be added any time soon. Now that Quinn’s in the club, I suppose impeachment is the bar by which entry is measured.
I feel bad for GSU. I think it’s a fine school, and it’s unfortunate that administrators or the board of trustees of the public university might one day have to wrestle with the question of whether to add Blagojevich and Quinn to its Hall of Governors.
I understand GSU’s current position that because the state’s ongoing financial crisis has decimated funding for public universities, contributing to elimination of academic programs and enrollment declines, now is hardly the time to consider spending public funds to create a portrait of an official.
But what if cost was no consideration? What if Quinn provided private funds, as he did for his official portrait in Springfield?
Adding Quinn and not Blagojevich would seem to settle the question about excluding potential members from the club for unethical behavior.
Then again, questions remain about Quinn’s conduct while he was governor. A recent report by a court-appointed watchdog charged with looking into patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation detailed how top Democrats used clout to help friends and relatives get government jobs during Quinn’s administration, the Tribune reported.
Some might think it better to wait until questions about Quinn’s conduct are resolved before giving serious consideration to adding his likeness to GSU’s Hall of Governors.
One hopes current Gov. Bruce Rauner learns from the mistakes of his predecessors and refrains from any unethical behavior. Rauner has deep pockets, too, having put $50 million of his own money into his 2018 re-election campaign. He could easily afford to pay for his bronze bust, if GSU ever wanted to add him..