Q&A: How 'The House That Madigan Built' came crumbling down amid scandal
Michael Madigan served in the legislature for half a century. He was the longest-serving statehouse speaker in American history, serving in that role for all but two years between 1983 and 2021.
But scandal brought the powerful Democratic politician down.
WCBU's Tim Shelley recently interviewed Ray Long. He's a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, and the author of a new book about the indicted former Illinois House Speaker, The House That Madigan Built: The Record run of Illinois' Velvet Hammer.
TIM SHELLEY: So you have written the book about Mike Madigan. And what a what a story that is. You know, he basically was the kingmaker in Illinois politics for 40-plus years. And the only real analog I can think of to him in recent Illinois history is probably the old Mayor Daley, probably. It's Chicago machine politics. There was a time I mean, a couple of years ago, where looked like he was just never gonna go. But it kind of fell apart.
RAY LONG: You're right. And I think your analogy is apt there, because he was probably the greatest disciple of Richard J. Daley, the first Mayor Daley, who really perfected the modern day machine, and was this the father of Richard M. Daley, the the second Mayor Daley.
But Mike Madigan was a incredible master of many pieces of the game of politics. And he controlled the levers of politics, the levers of government, and he was great at fundraising. And he was great at mastering the intricacies of what really made it important to help Democrats thrive in Illinois. He became a master of how to draw the lines for the districts. It's this big redistricting process that comes on every 10 years when the population changes. And he was always able to manage to twist the lines to his advantage to stay in the majority, or even when he wasn't in the majority, he was able to beat the map four out of five times in the 1990s. So it was a guy who paid attention to every detail at every level.
The maps really, in the early 1980s redistricting cycle, that is really where he cemented his power.
Right. And as a matter of fact, it was a luck of the draw. You know, they have this kind of quirky deal in Illinois, where if they can't pass a map out of the legislature, then they'll go to a commission. And if the commission can't reach an agreement, they pull a name out of a hat. Well, in 1981, when Madigan was Minority Leader, they came to that point, and they pulled a name out of the hat and it was Democratic, and he drew the lines and he became speaker and he started his 36 year reign.
Except for those couple of years in the '90s when Republicans got control of the House, he was he was speaker from 1983 all the way 'till, what, 2020?
Early January 2021. So you're right. He really controlled the process. And I don't think he ever intended to leave. At least he didn't have his eyes set on a retirement date that we know of anyway.
What we really have to talk about then is, what undid Michael Madigan's power? We saw it kind of unravel over the last couple of years with this ComEd scandal.
I see the original kind of weakening of his his power back in 2018, when he was caught up in a #MeToo scandal that involved his aides. One of his aides from Chicago was sexually harassing a campaign worker. And she wrote Madigan a letter and and, and he fired the guy, but the woman felt that it had taken too long. And she then got blackballed also, from his organization, and she filed a suit against him.
And that issue just continued to linger over him and had an impact on, especially the women in the House Democratic Caucus. And even though he gained another seat in the 2018 election, that whole process of how you deal with human relations had really not been addressed well enough. And Madigan even admitted that and he multiple times took responsibility and said that, you know, I should have done more, etc.
To really flash forward to 2019, we had written a few stories about how subpoenas started hitting some of his close aides, including the guy who was accused of sexual harassment. By then, Madigan had tossed his chief of staff on another sexual harassment case and they had viewed his chief of staff as a bully who had let a culture exist. And that continued to push questions about Madigan's background.
And then, of course, in in 2020, we saw an agreed deal with ComEd that was called a deferred prosecution agreement, where the US Attorney's Office looked at ComEd and said we've got to address this. They cut a deal.
ComEd paid $200 million. And they acknowledged that they had been putting people on their payroll that were Madigan cronies, former aldemen, et cetera, loading up their internship program with 13th Ward people who were college kids from the 13th Ward, which is his (Madigan's) power base. And then they also admitted that they put on their board of directors, the ComEd board of directors, a guy that Madigan was pushing heavily, against resistance initially from within the company, and this is a state regulated utility. And so he was still able to get his way and get his appointment on board.
So that, really, as you noted, the whole ComEd scandal started his kind of tailspin. And from there, that coming in an election year, Republicans pile on and they loaded up the Kilbride campaign. Tom Kilbride running for the Supreme Court in the Third District, of course, was a hot race in your area. And the Republican opposition basically hanged Madigan around Kilbride's neck and weighed him down as an albatross. Madigan was a big, big player in pushing for Kilbride over the years. And that played against him when Kilbride ran for retention. He didn't have an opponent, but he needed to get 60% of the vote. And he didn't achieve that. And a lot of people blame Madigan.
(The) same thing was going on, the same kind of dynamics with Governor Pritzker, his attempt to raise the income tax on top of people with the highest paychecks. And the opponents that use Madigan as an albatross around that to to pull that down. He was used as kind of a weapon against the Democrats at that point, and had, in the judgment of party leaders, hurt the party's efforts.
Ray Long's book, The House That Madigan Built, is available now through the University of Illinois Press.
Hear more of Tim Shelley's interview with Long Tuesday at 5 p.m. on All Things Peoria on 89.9 FM, or livestreamed at WCBU.org.