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Miller: Petulant Madigan getting thrown off his game

Updated: December 6, 2013 6:08AM



The rich irony of House Speaker Michael Madigan denouncing somebody else for attempting to be a “kingmaker” is so obvious and laughable that I can’t help but wonder why a guy who’s been a take-no-prisoners kingmaker for so long would ever think of saying such a thing.

You may already know the story. The Better Government Association and the Chicago Sun-Times took a look at some of those passing around Madigan’s campaign petitions to see if they had government jobs.

What they found wasn’t surprising — 17 of 30 people who passed Madigan’s nominating petitions had public jobs. Another 12 had at one time worked for the government.

Power tends to feed off itself. The longer you’re around, the more power you tend to have, and the more power you have, the more you can get. And Madigan (D-Chicago) has been around Illinois and Chicago politics forever. He’s at the top of the heap as far as state government power goes and is also chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Ideologically, Madigan, 71, has moved with the times. He favors both medical marijuana and gay marriage, for example.

Politically, the man is anything but post-modern. He’s Chicago’s 13th Ward Democratic committeeman and runs his ward like it’s been run for a century or more. Running an old-time organization, however, requires old-style patronage, and Madigan is a master at finding jobs for his precinct workers.

A good case in point is Patrick Ward, a Madigan precinct worker. Ward was drawing a public pension while working at Metra, but he wanted a raise and hadn’t received one, so he asked his sponsor for help. Madigan made a couple of calls, then backed off when Metra’s chief executive, Alex Clifford, objected to political interference.

Clifford eventually resigned in a secret deal that included a huge severance package and a vow of silence. But when the media got wind of the cost of the severance (as much as $817,000), all hell broke loose and all fingers pointed to Madigan.

The Sun-Times and the BGA’s investigative team took a look at Madigan’s most recent nominating petitions, noticed Ward was a circulator and then took a look at the other names. The BGA sent people door to door to talk to the other circulators to see if they were the same folks who showed up on the government-employee searches. Some of those precinct workers alleged that they and their families were harassed, and Madigan got angry.

He unleashed a diatribe against the BGA and its leader, Andy Shaw, for being on “an unrelenting journey to become a kingmaker in Illinois politics.” He also blasted the BGA for allegedly trying to undermine the Democratic Party.

Madigan is fiercely protective of his 13th Ward loyalists, who are almost like family to him. A statement simply denouncing the BGA’s tactics would’ve been reasonable, although still ironic considering how personally aggressive and “unrelenting” Madigan’s House campaigns can be.

And some of the BGA’s political motivations and top contributors are also fair game. The group preaches political cleanliness but doesn’t always associate with the cleanest of the clean.

But all Madigan did with that “kingmaker” comment was turn Shaw into a folk hero and help him raise lots more money. You’d think Madigan would comprehend the public consequences of such an over-the-top claim.

Word going around is that Madigan may be trying to head off another ongoing BGA inquiry. But all he may have done was whet the group’s appetite.

The speaker has really been off his game the past several months. He literally ran away and hid from Chicago TV reporter Chuck Goudie a few months ago, which resulted in a humiliating story on the Chicago’s most-watched news station.

He publicly tossed his daughter under the bus after she blamed his resistance to retirement for her decision not to run for governor.

And Madigan insulted Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) last May by telling a Sun-Times reporter that Cullerton displayed a “lack of leadership” on pension reform.

Partly due to his daughter’s aborted gubernatorial bid and partly due to the Metra patronage mess, polling has shown that the public’s awareness of Madigan has grown this year. And the public definitely doesn’t like the guy. So, he’s only hurting himself and his party members with stunts like this BGA attack.

Madigan is valued at the Statehouse for being the most grown up of the grownups. But he’s simply not acting that way of late.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.



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