Mike Madigan: Untouchable—until he wasn’t.

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The moral of the story: Even a GOAT—a Greatest Of All Time, best at whatever his or her chosen pursuit happened to be—messes up occasionally. And teammates, mostly inadvertently but sometimes intentionally, facilitate the stumble. 

In sports, it means an occasional loss or embarrassment. In business or entertainment, an occasional flop. Painful but generally overcome, sooner or later.

In politics, however, when messing up involves corruption—violating federal law—it usually lands the offender in prison jumpsuits. And the road to perdition begins with the sad, decades-long reality of perverse Chicago and Illinois’ politics: Too many elected officials illegally using their offices to accumulate wealth, power or both by trading official actions—doling out jobs and contracts, and passing or killing legislation—for cash and clout.

Most of the highest rollers get away with their schemes until one or more bit players wronged by the power broker, incensed by his or her venality, or under pressure from the feds for their own alleged misdeeds, drops a dime or becomes an informant—a wiretap facilitator.  

The feds recruited deal-making miscreants as moles to reel in corrupt Chicago aldermen in the 1980s; angry office employees turned on then-Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan in the ’90s; a “loyal” insider tipped off the feds to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s shakedown schemes in the early 2000s, and an unlikely snitch or two helped the feds indict two previously bullet-proof kingmakers: Chicago Ald. Ed Burke and the ultimate untouchable, Michael Madigan. 

Burke and Madigan accumulated an enormous amount of political power over their city and state fiefdoms, and that enabled them to amass millions for themselves and their law firms by using clout, connections and nonexistent conflict-of-interest rules to help wealthy clients save even more millions of their own property tax dollars. 

Nabbing Burke for allegedly discussing a Southwest Side shakedown scheme in a wiretapped conversation about a zoning permit in exchange for law firm business was surprising, given his ability over the years to maintain the loyalty of subordinates and the privacy of conversations. 

But if “surprising” is the right word for the fallout from his potentially incriminating choice of words on a federal wiretap, Madigan’s fall from grace was a high-voltage shock—a veritable jaw-dropper akin to M.J. missing a game-winning slam dunk.

Madigan was the epitome of discretion over the years—arguably paranoid and preternaturally cautious in his exercise of unrivaled influence over all state and some city business and legislation. 

He didn’t use email or a cell phone, he talked in code, even to close associates, and he let underlings do most of his dirty work. 

But his uncharacteristically inept handling of an inner-circle sex abuse scandal raised questions about his invincibility; the unexpected willingness of a powerful former Chicago alderman and close political ally to save his own hide by wiretapping phone conversations; and his close connection to a burgeoning Commonwealth Edison corruption scandal, which may have produced another cooperating defendant, created a perfect storm for federal prosecutors to build a strong corruption case. 

Recent disclosures of titillating phone conversations between Madigan and his indicted longtime confidant Mike McClain, following earlier eye-opening revelations of his chats with alderman-turned-snitch Danny Solis, offer a rare glimpse into the mechanics of Madigan’s allegedly corrupt quid pro quo maneuvers. 

And the irony, for longtime political reporters who covered the Madigan political empire for decades, is that we wrote and broadcast ad nauseam about the inner workings of the city, county and state’s corrupt transactional political system, and how Madigan appeared to be gaming it.  

But we didn’t have whistleblowers or wiretaps to confirm our observations. 

The feds apparently did, and the upcoming trials of Team Madigan will entice other defendants to consider dropping dimes on the boss and empower pundits eager to pontificate on the final chapter in the storied career of the country’s longest-serving and most powerful House Speaker.

Enigmatic. Inscrutable. And apparently infallible Michael J. Madigan. 

Until, like everyone else, he wasn’t. 

Andy Shaw covered politics for WLS-TV/Channel 7, led the Better Government Association and chairs the Change Illinois Action Fund board. 

via Crain’s Chicago Business

May 25, 2022 at 10:57PM

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