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Labor chief: Quinn needs us if he wants a second term

The stage is seen as preparations continue before start Democratic National ConventiTime Warner Cable ArenCharlotte N.C. Monday Sept. 3 2012.

The stage is seen as preparations continue before the start of the Democratic National Convention at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Updated: October 5, 2012 6:19AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One of Illinois’ most powerful union leaders predicted Monday that Gov. Pat Quinn could not win re-election in 2014 “without making peace with labor.”

The Labor Day message from Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, came as House Speaker and state Democratic Party chief Michael Madigan offered rare accolades for Quinn yet wouldn’t get behind a potential 2014 re-election bid by the governor.

The busy political day unfolded as Illinois Democrats began convention week in Charlotte, eager to push a second term for President Barack Obama and to show a unified face heading into the fall campaign.

But the rift between some key parts of the state’s organized labor movement and Quinn — a fight rooted in the governor’s efforts to lay off as many as 4,000 state workers, withhold pay raises and cut pension benefits for public employees — followed the Democrats to North Carolina.

“I don’t know he could win a re-election again without making peace with labor,” Carrigan said. “But we’re ready. We’ll be at the table. All it takes is a phone call.”

Madigan, meanwhile, dished out praise for the governor, telling several hundred delegates and their guests that Illinois is lucky to have Quinn in charge after inheriting the ethical mess left by Rod Blagojevich and dealing with the recession’s terrible toll on state finances.

“He’s been the subject of a lot of undue criticism from a lot of different quarters, just depending on what kind of ax they want to grind, many of them being Republicans,” said Madigan (D-Chicago). “We’re fortunate Pat was there the time it happened, that he’s had the fortitude going on, dealing with one serious problem after another.”

After his remarks, Madigan was asked if his words of praise amounted to an endorsement of Quinn for 2014 should the governor seek re-election, but Madigan wouldn’t answer.

“We haven’t gotten to that yet,” Madigan said.

He then was asked about whether his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, might be interested in running for governor to which Madigan replied: “I don’t have any thoughts on that.”

Madigan did say he has no intention of retiring and, if his daughter were interested in a 2014 gubernatorial bid, she should feel free to seek the Executive Mansion if she wants and if he is in control of the Illinois House.

“Why not?” he asked. “Why not?”

The speaker also took a shot at Republicans who have made a “Fire Madigan” theme — and a website selling items such as doggy T-shirts that sport the phrase — the focal point of their state campaigns this fall, a strategy Madigan said was doomed to fail.

“It’s a distraction being used by people that are in desperate straits,” he said.

Perhaps the day’s most colorful moment involved a button with an eye-grabbing slogan designed to dis conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.

Barb Brown, a Democratic state central committeewoman from Downstate Chester, was selling “Sluts Vote” buttons for $3 apiece or two for $5, honoring Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke.

Earlier this year, Fluke was derided by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh as a “slut” for maintaining that birth-control pills should be covered by health insurance.

“We are all with her. We are sister sluts if that’s what it takes to make the point,” said Brown, who estimated she’d already sold 200 of the 1,000 buttons she brought to Charlotte.

Finally, Madigan spent a little time reminiscing about one of the more surreal moments in recent Illinois political history — the strange peace offering U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. tried to broker between the speaker and ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who were locked in a mortal feud.

In 2008, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Jackson stood up publicly before Illinois delegates and urged Blagojevich and Madigan to hug one another, which they awkwardly agreed to do.

Blagojevich, of course, is now in a federal prison in Littleton, Co., while Jackson is being treated for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic, leaving Madigan the only immediate survivor in Charlotte from that strange moment.

“I thought about that yesterday. Both of those guys are absent now, aren’t they?” Madigan said when asked about his memories of that notorious hug.

Pressed on the significance of their absences, the longest-serving House speaker in Illinois history quipped: “Well, you need good staying power in this business, and you’re looking at it.”

Jackson and his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) are skipping the convention. Sandi Jackson has insisted that her husband — who faces two nominal opponents in November — has every intention of running for re-election.

But the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the congressman’s father, was not at all certain about that. Asked point-blank whether his son would be a candidate for re-election, the elder Jackson said, “I don’t know. His health is his priority, and any decision on that will be made with his doctors.”

Pressed on when that decision would be made, the Rev. Jackson said, “The first issue is his health. He and his doctors will determine that at the appropriate time. That’s all I have to say.”

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