‘The Hammer’s still pounding’

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Voters not counting out Madigan

By Tim Hadac

January 22, 2021

Arguably the most powerful state politician in Illinois history, State Rep. Michael J. Madigan (D-22nd) left his constituents speculating about his future last week, in the wake of news that he failed to muster enough votes to be re-elected as speaker of the state House of Representatives.

A Greater Southwest News-Herald request for comment went unanswered last week, but voters outside the Walgreens at 71st and Pulaski—just blocks from Madigan’s longtime political headquarters—were filled with what they said were answers.

"He’s slick, he’s smooth and he’s not going anywhere,” Jose Salgado said. "He’s going from being the man on the throne to the man behind the throne. I think [new House Speaker] Chris Welch was Madigan’s Plan B. Madigan saw he didn’t have the votes [to be re-elected speaker], so he put forth one of his lieutenants as a proxy. Madigan still has plenty of power. Don’t let anyone kid you with these ‘end of an era’ pronouncements.

"Madigan knows what his next move is, but he hasn’t said what it is because he’s holding his cards close to his vest,” Salgado added. "No one plays political poker as well as he does.”

Salgado’s brother, Francisco, agreed.

"The Hammer’s still pounding,” he said, using Madigan’s longtime nickname, the Velvet Hammer (referring to Madigan’s reputation for pounding his political opponents quietly and with finesse). "If anything, he’s going to pound his enemies even more quietly, now that he can do it through Welch. I think [Governor JB Pritzker] and everyone who tried to force Madigan out are in for a pounding.”

Nereida Lopez thinks Madigan will retire.

"As the saying goes, he’s had it all,” she said. "At his age (he turns 79 in April), you’d think he’d just retire to a beach in Florida or play with his grandkids or something like that. I know I would.”

Ted Giannapoulos thinks that "Madigan’s ego won’t allow him to sit still in Springfield while somebody else pulls the levers of power. Look at how [14th Ward Ald. Edward M.] Burke was stripped of his power in City Council, and these days he just does what? I’m sure Madigan sees that and thinks, ‘That’s not going to be me.’”

Keith McGuane said he thinks "it’s party time” for Madigan.

"What does every politician do after their career in a legislature is over?” he asked rhetorically. "He registers as a lobbyist; and then oh boy, that’s when they really cash in. Aldermen do it. Congressmen do it. I’ll bet Madigan does it, too. This is a man with options. And if he can get past this ComEd investigation, his next address is Easy Street.”

Overhearing the comment and disagreeing with it was Rosalinda Cardona.

"I think—or at least I hope—that Mr. Madigan will re-focus his energies on doing good right here in the neighborhood,” she said. "He has done so much good over so many years for the people of the Southwest Side: new schools, new streets, improved parks and libraries, new businesses with new jobs. I can’t even name it all. I pray for Mr. Madigan. I hope he stays with us. We need him.”

What Madigan has said

In a statement released the day Welch was elected speaker, Madigan said, "It is time for new leadership in the House. I wish all the best for Speaker-elect Welch as he begins a historic speakership. It is my sincere hope that the caucus I leave to him, and to all who will serve alongside him, is stronger than when I began… "As I look at the large and diverse Democratic majority we have built — full of young leaders ready to continue moving our state forward, strong women and people of color, and members representing all parts of our state — I am confident Illinois remains in good hands.”

Madigan’s allies very quickly followed suit—almost as if on cue–with labor union after labor union (among his most solid and powerful backers) putting out statements echoing what Madigan said.

Madigan was the nation’s longest-serving legislative leader. He has served as a state representative since 1970—and for all but two years since 1983, he has held the speaker’s gavel, shaping the state with a staggering amount of political power he carefully amassed over the years.

Madigan’s grip on power appeared to loosen in 2018 during a sexual harassment scandal that resulted in the firing of several top aides, including his chief of staff.

Madigan was further weakened last year when he was named in a court document by utility giant Commonwealth Edison. The company admitted to a years-long bribery scheme aimed at influencing Madigan by providing jobs to his associates. To date, Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

(Editor’s Note: More news coverage and photos in the print edition of the Greater Southwest News-Herald, available on local newsstands. Or better yet, call 708-496-0265 during weekday business hours and order convenient home delivery for about 50 cents a week.)

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January 25, 2021 at 08:51PM

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