The argument Madigan and his friends are making is that, in the shady world of Illinois politics and rapacious corporations who buy what they want, the speaker has done nothing particularly unusual, or illegal. Companies all the time sign up former lawmakers who have influence with those still in office and pay them a bundle to get some votes, notes one Springfield power. Where’s the crime in helping a friend get a job, Madigan himself has asked, parroting an old Richard J. Daley line about, "If you can’t help your son, who can you help?"
But Daley is long gone, just like other great men, like former Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, who missed the memo that times had changed. Not to mention Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan and a pile of other pols who forgot where the line was.
Madigan also asserts that if he’d done something wrong, the feds would have indicted him. Perhaps so. Or perhaps they’re still looking. The fact that the feds indicted ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore without a plea deal certainly suggests they’re trying to get her to flip on someone bigger.
So, we’ll see if Madigan has broken the law. But there’s no question he has broken acceptable standards of good ethical behavior and governance.
Are we truly to believe that Sgt. Schultz—er, Madigan—really didn’t know that his longtime pal and running buddy Mike McClain was allegedly shaking down ComEd for every loose penny, according to the indictment, arranging for more than $1 million in political payoffs to be laundered through the firm of consultant Jay Doherty, getting work for Victor Reyes’ law firm, even ensuring that 10-and-we-don’t-mean-9 young people from Madigan’s home 13th Ward got company internships every summer?
Then there was a gig on ComEd’s board for Madigan associate Juan Ochoa. According to the indictment, McClain personally discussed that with the speaker. Not much plausible deniability, is there?
The point: Either Madigan, one of the sharpest and shrewdest pols ever to grace Springfield, knew what was going on. Or he turned his head to avoid knowing. Either way, his time is up, whatever good he might have done otherwise.
When and if Madigan goes, things quite possibly turn mean and dirty and divisive, because like many longtime holders of power, Madigan hasn’t left much of a will. Progressives are eager to take control, minority caucuses and labor groups have their interests, downstaters will want to protect their slowly ebbing clout, etc.
There’s an outside shot Madigan will try to cut a deal in which he stays through the coming remap and then transition the job to a friend. Doubtful but possible. More likely the old guard will try to install someone they know and trust.
It’s far too early to handicap this. But among names that already are being mentioned are Majority Leader Greg Harris, who’s currently Madigan’s No. 2 but also is an openly gay North Side progressive; Hillside’s Chris Welch, an African American who chairs the powerful Executive Committee; and insurgent Kelly Cassidy, whose district adjoins Harris’. Then there’s downstate leader Jay Hoffman, who has strong ties to labor and trial lawyers; Evergreen Park’s Kelly Burke, a former legislative staffer; and Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Black woman from Peoria who some insiders say has friends in various camps. There could be more, with Aurora’s Stephanie Kifowit already running.
Expect the unexpected.