With all due respect to Republicans and “good-government” civic citizens, I’m not joining your posse, riding out to string up House speaker Michael Madigan, the state’s most powerful Democrat.
Or its former most powerful Democrat. I think we can agree that Governor Pritzker—and maybe even Mayor Lightfoot—have surpassed him.
Last Friday, Madigan took a blow when U.S. attorney John Lausch Jr. announced that Commonwealth Edison had fessed up to having essentially bribed the speaker by doling out do-nothing jobs and contracts to many of his friends and cronies.
In exchange, well, it’s not clear what ComEd got for allegedly bribing Madigan.
The General Assembly—which Madigan controls—did pass legislation favorable to Commonwealth Edison, including overriding then-Governor Quinn’s veto to pass the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act in 2011.
But let’s face it, the legislators probably would have done that anyway. I can’t recall the last time the General Assembly took a strong stand against the utility companies—especially in the pre-Pritzker era.
So, if you ask me, ComEd gave Madigan something that they could have gotten without giving him anything. But, of course, no one’s asking me.
For its confession, ComEd gets off fairly free. Yes, they have to pay a fine of $200 million. But that is chump change to a company worth billions of dollars.
For what it’s worth, Madigan’s spokesman says that Madigan says he did nothing wrong.
Yes, Madigan should step down. But then I thought he should step down—or be forced out—after it became clear that he’d ignored staffer Alaina Hampton’s request that he stop another Madigan operative from harassing her.
Clearly, Democratic legislators in this state take my advice almost as much as their aldermanic counterparts in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are outraged—outraged I tell you!
The five Republican congressmen from Illinois—Rodney Davis, Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, and Mike Bost—issued a joint statement, declaring: “The people of Illinois deserve better than Illinois Democrats’ embarrassing, systemic corruption.”
Pardon me while I retch. What a bunch of frauds and phonies. I haven’t seen so many hypocrites since the school board members in Jeannie C. Riley’s classic country hit “Harper Valley PTA”—a song so old that only Madigan, me, and a few other geezers remember it.
In the song, the members of the Harper Valley PTA chide one woman for wearing a miniskirt. Even as they cheat on their wives, drink too much, and knock up their secretaries.
So, yes, the Republicans are all puffed up with outrage over Madigan. But they can’t bring themselves to say one word about their leader, Donald Trump, who’s committed far worse crimes than Madigan.
Let’s run down just a few of Trump’s dirty deeds that spring to my mind, in no particular order . . .
Intimidating witnesses, snubbing congressional subpoenas, lying constantly, filing lawsuits to conceal his taxes, firing prosecutors who examine his crimes, firing employees who testify against him. And rape.
Must not forget E. Jean Carroll’s allegations that Trump raped her.
And yet, not a word from the Republicans about any of the lawlessness of the miscreant they worship. They’re so afraid of one little presidential tweet. They look the other way. And now they lecture us on Madigan’s malfeasance. Please.
As for corporate Chicago . . .
Among Madigan’s flaws is his law firm, which specializes in property tax appeals. For years, he represented some of Chicago’s most prominent downtown landlords in appeals brought before his political allies at the Cook County assessor’s office. Is that legal? Yes. Should it be outlawed? Of course.
Madigan’s not the only high-ranking Democrat with a flourishing property tax business. Former state senate president John Cullerton and Alderman Ed Burke had them as well.
Where was the outrage from corporate Chicago all these years? Nowhere. Many of the movers and shakers in civic Chicago are located in buildings whose landlords hired Madigan or Cullerton or Burke to lower their property taxes.
The funny thing is, my bet is these landlords probably would have gotten those tax breaks even if they hadn’t hired Madigan, Cullerton, or Burke.
I mean, it doesn’t really take a legal genius to win an appeal from the assessor’s office. It doesn’t take much more than having the patience and diligence to fill out a bunch of forms.
But I suspect many landlords hired Madigan or Cullerton or Burke not so much to win the tax break as to curry favor with the Big Three. Sort of like ComEd doling out do-nothing jobs to Madigan’s cronies.
From time to time, I entertain myself by looking at the big shots who operate out of buildings represented by Madigan, Cullerton, or Burke. It’s a fun game to play while you’re in quarantine.
A few years ago, I was delighted to discover that the private equity firm of Bruce Rauner—Madigan’s archrival—was located in a building represented by Madigan. As was the office of Ken Griffin—the hedge fund billionaire who gave millions to Rauner’s campaign.
When I saw that ComEd was represented by Jenner & Block—one of the premier pinstripe law firms in town—I decided, what the hell, let’s play the property tax appeal game.
Jenner & Block is located at 353 N. Clark, in a towering, gleaming high-rise whose landlord is represented by Madigan’s law firm.
Why am I not surprised?
Look, I’ve had problems with Madigan as a speaker. Basically, he worked out a deal with Mayors Daley and Rahm. They let him run the General Assembly and he used his vast powers to make sure they got just about anything they wanted—be it TIF extensions, O’Hare land grabs, Olympic funding, and so forth.
So, I won’t kid myself into thinking Madigan was a legislative antecedent to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But I’ll say this for Madigan: when Rauner tried to destroy collective bargaining rights in Illinois, it was Madigan who fought back.
I’ve no doubt that Rahm and Cullerton would have sold out the unions in a heartbeat had it not been for Madigan. It was Madigan who kept Rauner from doing to Illinois what Scott Walker did to Wisconsin.
And that’s probably why the Republicans—and all their corporate cronies—hate him so much.
So no, I won’t be joining their posse. To quote Jeannie C. Riley—they’re all a bunch of “Harper Valley hypocrites. v