Final nail in ‘The Velvet Hammer’s’ political coffin? Madigan’s record run as speaker could be nearing an end

Original story published by Rachel Hinton of the Chicago Sun-Times on 11/19/2020. Photo credit to Tim Akimoff of WBEZ. A link to the article may be found HERE


Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan may soon be out of the leadership post he’s held for nearly four decades.

After members of his inner circle were indicted for an alleged bribery scheme designed to influence him, four more state House Democrats say they won’t be voting for Madigan to maintain his powerful position in January, effectively blocking him from another term in that seat if they hold to their statements.

Madigan said in a lengthy, two-page statement that to the extent anyone at Commonwealth Edison thought they could “influence my conduct as a legislator … they were fundamentally mistaken.”

“If they even harbored the thought that they could bribe or influence me, they would have failed miserably,” Madigan said. “I take offense at any notion otherwise. To the extent anyone may have suggested to others that I could be influenced, then they, too, were wrong. Had I known about it, I would have made every effort to put a stop to it.”

Democratic Representatives Will Guzzardi and Margaret Croke of Chicago, Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook, and Sam Yingling of Grayslake, joined the growing group of representatives who said they won’t be voting for Madigan to remain speaker in January.

“I join many of my fellow House members in asking Rep. Madigan not to seek reelection as speaker of the Illinois House,” Guzzardi said in a statement. “If he does, we will not be voting for him. And without our votes, we do not believe he will have the requisite number to be reelected as speaker.”

In a joint statement, Carroll and Yingling said, “We want to see our caucus go in a new direction with different leadership.”

“Therefore, we will not be supporting the current speaker for the 102nd General Assembly.”

Croke, who was recently elected to represent some of the city’s near Northside and lakefront neighborhoods, later joined the other representatives who said they would not be supporting the speaker for re-election, saying in her statement Thursday afternoon “Springfield cannot afford distractions that take our focus off of meeting those challenges head-on.”

If all of those representatives hold to their statements, Madigan likely won’t have the votes for another term in the leadership role he has held for all but two years since 1983. So far, 16 out of 73 representatives who will be able to vote have said they won’t be casting their vote for Madigan to remain speaker in January. Madigan needs 60 votes.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said those jumping in Thursday were “late, but I’m glad that they are speaking up.” He also called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to call on Madigan to resign immediately.

“The state of Illinois cannot limp along with this corruption hanging over it, and also hanging over him,” Durkin said. “We have a multitude of issues that must be resolved by the government in Springfield and it has to be done in a transparent, and also a fair, manner.”

A spokeswoman for Pritzker did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but Wednesday night his longtime confidant Michael McClain and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore were among four people indicted by federal grand jury for allegedly arranging for Madigan’s associates and allies to get jobs, contracts and money — even while doing little or no work — “for the purpose of influencing and rewarding” Madigan.

A former ComEd lobbyist, John Hooker, and Jay Doherty, the former president of the City Club, were accused of helping to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to three people with ties to Madigan’s 13th Ward.

All four are charged in a the 50-page indictment that also makes frequent references to ex-ComEd executive Fidel Marquez, who already pleaded guilty to bribery. The document also repeatedly mentions “Public Official A,” who is not named — but is clearly identified as Madigan.

In his statement, Madigan said, “If there was credible evidence that I had engaged in criminal misconduct, which I most certainly did not, I would be charged with a crime. But I have not, and with good reason because there is nothing wrong or illegal about making job recommendations, regardless of what people inside ComEd may have hoped to achieve from hiring some of the people who were recommended.”

He went on to address his detractors, saying “I anticipate some will be disappointed that I was not a party to this indictment and find it difficult to swallow the fact that I have not been accused of or charged with any wrongdoing.”

“Some individuals have spent millions of dollars and worked diligently to establish a false narrative that I am corrupt and unethical,” Madigan said. “I have publicly ignored their antics because those who know me and work with me know that this rhetoric is simply untrue. … I have always gone to great lengths to ensure my conduct is legal and ethical, and any claim to the contrary is patently false.”

Known as “The Velvet Hammer” for his quiet but iron-fisted control of the speaker’s gavel, the powerful Southwest Side Democrat has held the reins in the state House for much of the past 37 years, serving as speaker for all but two years since 1983. He was first elected to the House in 1971.

Madigan’s tenure eclipsed the 33-year record set by South Carolina’s Solomon Blatt, who served from 1937-1946 and 1951-1973, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

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