It’s a political tale as old as the Southwest Side bungalow belt, filled with alliances made and broken, and the specter of indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan hanging over the whole affair.
As with many ward-level scrapes, nobody can agree on who started what and why. But the falling-out is getting a public airing against the backdrop of the looming city elections.
At issue is an aldermanic battle that isn’t even in Madigan’s home 13th Ward but rather the neighboring 23rd, which has long been in his sphere of influence. Incumbent Ald. Silvana Tabares, a one-time Madigan ally who has since broken with the former speaker, finds herself challenged by community organizer Eddie Guillen, a recent worker in Madigan’s political organization who’s getting support from Madigan’s replacement in the Illinois House.
The contest has the markings of the Chicago tradition of political foes waging proxy fights by putting up candidates against one another while denying they’re doing so.
And as the Latino population of the city, and the Southwest Side in particular continues to grow, white Democratic war horses such as Madigan have frequently tried to find ways to retain power by backing a new generation of young, Latino elected officials.
But Guillen insists he’s no tool of what’s left of the Madigan machine, even though he acknowledges it might look that way.
Indeed, Guillen worked two months for Madigan’s 13th Ward Democrats last year, after Madigan was ousted as speaker and resigned from the House amid revelations he was ensnared in a federal corruption investigation. Guillen then took a job as chief of staff for state Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar, who has Madigan’s support and currently shares office space at 65th Avenue and Pulaski Road in the building that has long housed the former speaker’s political organization and the office of 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, Madigan’s City Council ally and longtime top political operative.
Despite those connections, Guillen insists his run against Tabares in the Feb. 28 election has nothing to do with whatever animosity exists between Madigan and Tabares. Instead, Guillen said he’s been growing increasingly frustrated with Tabares’ failure to provide residents basic ward services, especially in the heavily Latino neighborhoods such as West Lawn in the eastern part of the ward.
“She’s failed the Latino community,” he said.
Still, Guillen allowed that his recent time in Madigan’s orbit raises questions.
“I know what you mean, that’s what it looks like,” he said.
Tabares — who got her City Council seat thanks in no small part to Madigan’s backing — said she wants to focus on her record of getting things done in the ward.
Asked whether she thinks Madigan and Quinn are behind Guillen’s candidacy, Tabares didn’t answer directly, but said, “the 23rd Ward has traditionally been seen as being politically dependent on neighboring wards, but at the end of the day, I think residents are tired, and they want a voice that’s going to stick up for them.”
Quinn said he had nothing to do with Guillen deciding to run against Tabares.
“In the upcoming political season, I’m going to be concentrating on my own election,” said Quinn, who is facing a challenge from Paul Bruton, a former analyst in the city’s inspector general’s office, “and then I have a robust snow removal program for senior citizens, which is like running an Election Day every time it snows.”
Madigan could not be reached for comment.
To appreciate the tangled political web that’s at play in the 13th and 23rd wards, which both twist through the peninsula on the Southwest Side that includes Midway Airport, as well as Garfield Ridge and Clearing, head back to 2018.
That’s when 23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski, a close Madigan associate, called it quits from the City Council after 23 years.
Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose Tabares to finish Zalewski’s term following an “open search” for a replacement.
At the time, Tabares was a state representative for the area’s 21st House district who had just been elected along with Madigan to serve on the Democratic State Central Committee from the 3rd Congressional District. Madigan also backed Tabares’ candidacy to replace Zalewski on the council, and Emanuel, not wanting to pick a fight with the powerful speaker, obliged.
Tabares won election to a full City Council term in 2019. In winning, her campaign received help from the Friends of Michael J. Madigan campaign fund, including a $55,400 contribution and an additional $80,000 from the Democratic Party of Illinois, which Madigan controlled, state campaign finance records show. Early on, Tabares was a quiet presence on the City Council, attending meetings and casting votes but rarely mixing it up in the sometimes-heated debates in committees and on the council floor.
That same year, though, more questions began to be raised about Madigan and those closest to him.
In May 2019, the FBI raided the homes of several Madigan allies, including Zalewski and Springfield lobbyist Mike McClain, a former state lawmaker and longtime Madigan confidant.
Federal agents were seeking records of interactions among Madigan, McClain and Zalewski related to attempts to get Commonwealth Edison lobbying work for Zalewski after he retired from the City Council. Zalewski has not been charged.
His power waning during the ongoing probe, Madigan was ousted as speaker by his House colleagues in January 2021 and resigned weeks later from the legislative seat he’d held since 1971.
Madigan and McClain were indicted in March 2022, Madigan on federal racketeering charges alleging his elected office and political operation were a criminal enterprise that provided personal financial rewards for him and his associates, McClain on separate federal charges alleging he orchestrated an alleged bribery scheme by ComEd. Both have pleaded not guilty.
But even before the formal indictment, cracks started to appear publicly in the Madigan-Tabares relationship, when Democratic committeemen met in February 2021 to name Madigan’s successor to the Illinois House.
Holding more than half the weighted Democratic Party vote for the new representative, Madigan controlled the nomination. He picked Edward Guerra Kodatt, a bilingual outreach and budget assistant in the constituent services office run by him and Quinn.
Rather than lining up behind Kodatt, Tabares nominated Guerrero-Cuellar, a community services volunteer. When it became clear that Kodatt would win, Tabares declined Madigan’s suggestion that the committeemen make his appointment unanimous.
Kodatt’s term lasted less than a week. He resigned under pressure from Madigan and Quinn for unspecified “alleged questionable conduct.”
Madigan promptly endorsed Guerrero-Cuellar to instead take the seat, which she did.
Since Tabares nominated Guerrero-Cuellar for the state House post, their political paths have diverged sharply.
Guerrero-Cuellar opened her legislative office in the 13th Ward’s building, which is about a half-mile from Madigan’s home.
Guerrero-Cuellar said she accepted Madigan’s and Quinn’s offer to join them there because the office was already up and running from when Madigan held the seat and that experienced Madigan legislative staff continued to provide strong constituent services.
Guillen was an obvious choice to serve as her chief of staff, Guerrero-Cuellar said, because of his work helping connect residents to the government agencies they need to deal with problems.
“For years, people have reached out to Eddie because they know that if they do, he’ll know how to help them take care of it,” she said.
That made it an easy decision for her to back his candidacy when he decided to run for alderman, Guerrero-Cuellar said. She has contributed $6,900 to his aldermanic campaign since August, all of the money he’s so far reported receiving, state campaign finance records show.
Quinn’s political campaign fund contributed $19,939 to Guerrero-Cuellar in February, according to state campaign finance records. She has also received big contributions from several labor groups long allied with Madigan.
As she’s broken with the former speaker, Tabares also has become a loud voice on the council in defense of police officers and often in opposition to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
It’s a smart political move for an alderman who represents lots of cops and other city workers in Garfield Ridge and Clearing as well as a financial one for a candidate who can no longer count on the money and organizational support of the still-formidable organization run by Quinn and Madigan.
The Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police contributed $54,900 to the Tabares campaign last month, following a $5,000 contribution in May, according to state campaign finance records.
Tabares no longer speaks to her, Guerrero-Cuellar said. She said she isn’t sure why, but assumes Tabares is upset about her connections to Madigan and Quinn.
“The mystery to me is obviously there’s something that’s bothering Silvana,” Guerrero-Cuellar said. “I don’t know how I got roped into this, but there’s not a communication with me. I don’t know what specifically it is. I wish she would tell me.”
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December 18, 2022 at 10:11AM