My first face-to-face encounter with House Speaker Michael Madigan was in 1998, when I was a Copley News Service reporting intern covering one of his Capitol press conferences.
I don’t remember the subject, but I do remember him speaking so calmly and softly that you had to lean towards the podium to make sure you caught every word. There were his icy stares and smirks, according to his assessment of a reporter’s question. And then there was his efficient and measured use of language – he never chattered or raised his voice like many politicians with access to a microphone.
It was my first exhibition at the “Madigan Mystique”.
The rise and – as we have read in detail over the past few weeks – the dramatic fall of the mystic is chronicled in detail in a new book, The House Madigan Built: The Velvet Hammer Record Series of Illinois, University of Illinois Press, by Chicago Grandstand investigative journalist Ray Long.
Bringing together decades of his reporting – as well as earlier work by Grandstand colleagues and other journalists and experts who cover and study Illinois government – Long provides a collection of the greatest successes of Madigan’s quest throughout his career to amass political power, Democratic House seats and legislative victories.
We get a retelling of stories only in Illinois, such as turning off the clock in the chamber of the Madigan-led House on June 30, 1988, allowed lawmakers to officially, but not actually, beat a deadline of midnight to approve a new stadium plan to prevent the Chicago White Sox from moving to Florida.
Using the House transcripts and a play-by-play recording of Charlie McBarron’s action from WMAQ-AM, Long takes us back to the chaotic chamber of the House where Democrat Madigan and Republican Governor Jim Thompson scoured the floor to convince members to vote for the legislation that gave us what is now called guaranteed rate land on Chicago’s south side.
We also get glimpses of a younger, more outspoken Madigan that contrasts with the stoic, confident and unflappable “Velvet Hammer” I first saw in 1998.
As we saw last year, legislative redistricting is raising the emotional temperature in the Statehouse, especially among members of the minority party. In 1981, Madigan led the minority party while Republican George Ryan served as Speaker of the House.
Adding to the conflict, lawmakers were to draw a map implementing the “Shrinking Amendment”, which reduced the size of the House from 177 to 118 members.
Using language that would fit neatly into a political debate taking place on Facebook today, Madigan, then 39, called Republican efforts to cross pro-GOP borders “reminiscent of tactics used by Nazis in Germany and by dictatorial regimes around the world.
He said the House redistricting process “makes us all look like a pack of idiots.” To top it off, Madigan told his haters that there would be a “day of reckoning”, “your time will come” and “you will regret it”.
I won’t divulge how the problem was solved, but the fact that Madigan began his record-breaking reign as Speaker of the House in 1983 will give you a clue.
As we all know, Madigan’s win didn’t last. A section of the book titled “Cracks in the System” goes into the #MeToo movement on Capitol Hill that has gunned down men in Madigan’s inner circle and raised questions about Madigan’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. It also covers the story of the Madigan organization taking an ethically questionable but not illegal (figuratively speaking) sledgehammer from an unknown, poorly funded candidate who dared to run against the President for his House seat.
The book ends with the thought of Madigan – we would never see him – falling from the presidency in January 2021. His support among House Democrats to remain president eroded after Commonwealth Edison admitted the previous summer that he had given jobs and contracts to Madigan’s political associates. as the House considered pro-ComEd legislation.
At the time of the book’s printing, Madigan had not been charged with any wrongdoing. Of course, that changed on March 2 when federal prosecutors issued a 22-count indictment accusing Madigan of orchestrating an “enterprise” that used his roles as Speaker of the House, Speaker of the State Democratic Party, 13th Ward committee member, and property tax appeals attorney to reward himself. and associated with money and jobs.
Madigan denies the allegations, saying “the government is trying to criminalize a routine service: job referrals. It is not illegal, and these other charges are also unfounded.”
Developments this month likely mean a second edition of Long’s book will be released once Madigan’s legal fate is determined. But with the chapters collected so far, readers get a comprehensive look at a style of power and politics we may never see again.
Jason Piscia is director of the public affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Previously, he worked for 21 years as a journalist and editor at State Journal-Register.