By John Kass
As the federal criminal racketeering conspiracy indictment of Michael J. Madigan came down, I was thinking of the audience of the apples.
Years ago, one of his toadies hanging around the press room in Springfield suggested it would be “a good idea” for me to have lunch with Boss Madigan, who for decades controlled the state as Speaker of the Illinois House and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, the Democratic boss of the 13th Ward.
So I went to lunch in Boss Madigan’s office. There were two apples sliced neatly, arranged precisely on two linen napkins. He graciously offered me a napkin, but I quickly realized I wasn’t there to eat, but to witness. He spoke methodically about some house procedure, about the Southwest Side of Chicago where each of us were born. There were pleasantries about the White Sox. It was all very polite.
But it was an audience, not a lunch. It was a theatrical demonstration of control. Of discipline. He kept this mouth closed as he chewed, and in that quiet office, his eyes widening, I could hear the disciplined crunching. One slice, then another. Silence and crunching.
And I thought of Illinois Gov. Pritzker, the state’s porcelain prince, scrambling to distance himself from Madigan now that Pritzker is the Democratic boss. He bought the state party with his inherited hotel billions.
After the indictment, Pritzker made sure to make himself available to reporters, braying loudly about how much ethics mean to him, as if he was as pure as Caesar’s wife. And he didn’t mention his toilet caper once.
Yes, you’re allowed to smirk.
Say what you will about Madigan. I’ve been his lead critic for decades, waiting for this day to come for the people of Madiganistsan. But anyone who thinks they’ll be made whole if Madigan is sent to prison is a fool.
After his long reign, Illinois and its politics are broken beyond repair. The racketeering indictment goes back at least a decade, with the federal investigation still continuing. And those who voted Democrat in election after election, so his servile minions in the legislature could maintain him as speaker and boss, decade after decade, are also responsible.
But there is one thing about Mike Madigan. Unlike Pritzker, he’s no hypocrite.
Yet as I read the indictment while listening to members of the bi-partisan political Combine that runs Illinois assuring voters that they hate corruption too, I thought about what friends of Madigan said.
They advised him to retire and enjoy his life, before the feds came calling. But like some Outfit boss accustomed to the life, he just couldn’t let go.
Madigan made piles of money leveraging his clout against his private property tax reduction legal practice. He had all that power he’d held for more than 40 years as the longest serving state house speaker in the history of American politics. He didn’t play the reformer hypocrite. He didn’t send his children to foreign lands, such as Ukraine and China, so the kids could be the bagman while daddy remained publicly pious like Joe Biden.
But Madigan couldn’t walk away. If he walked, and turned his back on what he’d built, what would he be? Just another old Irish politico with money, more money than taxpayers could count.
“We told him years ago he should retire,” a Madigan friend told me in 2020 when it was clear that U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch had picked up the federal hammer and was coming for Madigan.
“We’d say, ‘Mike, you’ve already made enough money. You had all that power. It’s time to go.’ And you know what he’d say?
“He’d say, ‘Yeah, but if I retire, what am I going to do?’”
What is he going to do now that he’s indicted for allegedly running a decade-long criminal racketeering enterprise like some Outfit boss?
He’ll use the millions he’s got in his political fund to pay his lawyers to drag this thing out as long as he can. He’s almost 80. His wife Shirley is ill. He’s never been one for going out and playing the spacone at a night spot. He isn’t one for weddings or wakes. And at the pizza place we both frequent, he takes a table in the back, out of the way where the crowd won’t see him, and often sits alone.
All he really liked was playing his game of thrones with state and local government and watching his law practice grow. The politicians he made and mentored will either turn on him and testify, or continue to loudly denounce him. And with their other tongue they’ll tell voters that they didn’t play with Madigan.
Oh, no. Not they. Maybe those other people. But not them. They tell us that they’re opposed to corruption.
I have no sympathy. And as I’ve been telling you for more than 20 years now, that big federal bus driven by the guy called ‘RICO’ keeps rolling. It’s been rolling from Chicago to Springfield and back again so many times now over the past several years, picking up state legislators, state senators, suburban mayors and corporate executives that RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act) can now drive it blindfolded.
I’ve waited for this Boss Madigan indictment day day for years. What is stunning, but not surprising are all those Democrats (and some Republicans), screaming at Madigan now, screaming and pointing like frightened primates at something dangerous at out there in the dark. What are the monsters they fear? The feds. And the voters, with elections coming.
They didn’t have the guts to scream when he was powerful, when he let them take the scraps, when they went along and by their acquiescence helped him build and maintain his power. But now, his enablers scream.
“You see the Democrats and Republicans and candidates all saying ‘Well, I knew…I wasn’t around’ or ‘I was one of the first guys to leave early!” said my friend Thom Serafin, of Serafin & Associates, on the current episode of The Chicago Way podcast.
Serafin, host of the Crisis Cast podcast, said that yes, the politicians in crisis now seek safety in distance from Madigan.
“But let me read from the indictment,” Serafin said, “That ‘MADIGAN utilized his position as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois to influence and garner loyalty from legislators by providing or withholding staff and funding to legislators and their campaigns.’
“There’s a reason why there’s a veto proof majority in the (Illinois) House of representatives today that was run by Mike Madigan and has been for a long time,” Serafin said. “He was able to elect his people, at his time, when he needed them, and they did his bidding. I see this (indictment) is going to be the major issue in the campaign. Crime is Number 1. But now Mike Madigan will be 1A.”
But they’re counting on the stupidity of voters to protect them, as they’ve always counted on it.
Madigan’s friend, associate Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, has also been indicted. Both were experts in the drawing of political maps to maintain power, and for decades the ground zero of Chicago’s ward map was at Madigan’s Southwest Side home.
Mouthpieces and media consultants are already whispering that there might not be a true “quid pro quo” here, as if these two long-time Irish lawyer politicians were about grabbing greasy envelopes of cash.
They don’t play that way. They never have. That’s lazy. Grabbing envelopes is what the low hanging political fruit do, those suckers with the shiny suits. And many of the foolishly unripe have been plucked by the feds.
The Madigan hunters among investigators for the IRS and agents of the FBI know this. Some are also Irish, the children of cops. They attended Catholic schools back in the day, when Catholic schools taught the difference between right and wrong. They’ve hunted Madigan for years.
The liberal writer Michael Kinsley has said it often: The scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.
And that’s Chicago and Illinois, the public servants enjoying steaks and driving fine cars while the people lose their homes because they can’t keep up with the tax increases. And the mouthpieces call it legal. I’ve never thought leveraging government to make fortunes is legal. That’s theft of honest service, properly called racketeering conspiracy.
Burke and Madigan will insist that what they’ve done is legal, until the feds begin playing taped conversations with former Chicago Ald. Danny Solis, 25th, who wired up after getting himself tangled in the federal web in part through his fondness for the massage parlors and Asian massage parlor workers. “I like Asian!” Solis said on federal tape.
And Burke said “Did we, ah, land the tuna?” on a Solis tape according to federal documents. Madigan didn’t really like Solis. But what will Madigan’s voice say on federal tape at trial?
At the indictment news conference, the Tribune’s ace federal beat reporter Jason Meisner asked a question of the U.S. Attorney.
“Ald. Ed Burke is awaiting trial in the same building and now Michael Madigan is indicted. Is the Chicago Way dead?” Meisner asked, noting that both Burke and Madigan are poster children for the Chicago Way.
“I don’t know if I can comment on that Jason,” Lausch said. “I guess what I would say is that the problem continues to be a very stubborn one.”
Indeed. The Chicago Way is not dead. The Outfit ran things once. Now corporations rake in billions of dollars in sports betting. And Illinois politicians are elected a state where people doff their caps to their lords. All the people want is to have ‘a guy’ to help them find a way to deal with the mountains of regulations and laws. And that’s how corruption begins. With the people corrupting themselves.
My question: Where was the state’s top law enforcement official, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul? Democrat Raul, once a leader of the firmly pro-Madigan black caucus in Springfield, received about a million dollars from Madigan’s political fund. Where were you Kwame?
And where was Madigan’s daughter, Lisa Madigan, the former state attorney general? She had a media beehive of support among Chicago journalists who ran interference for her, protecting her from evil skeptics like cartoonist Scott Stantis and yours truly.
Where were you Lisa? Were you trying to find that uncomfortable pea under dozens of mattresses?
And where were the so-called “progressive” Democratic reformers and those moderate Combine Republicans in all those alleged racketeering years, as Madigan played his games? Where was the black caucus, and the other party hacks?
There’s plenty to go around boys and girls. Come on up. Fill your bowls with the steaming stew of public piety. And don’t forget hunks of bread to sop up the sauce.
Pritzker was particularly urgent about his message. Too urgent.
“I’ve been saying for years now that we’ve got to root out corruption wherever it exists in government,” Pritzker after the Madigan indictment. “That’s why we’ve passed, and I’ve signed ethics reforms in the state of Illinois. But anybody who’s guilty of corruption or corrupt acts should be held to the fullest extent of the law, accountable for their actions.”
Hey Gov. Commodius Maximus, have you been held accountable for that scam you pulled on taxpayers, when you purchased a mansion next to your own, and removed the toilets so as to have the building listed on property records as “uninhabitable” so you could get a $300,000 tax break on your home?
What do you call that, J.B.? Were you held accountable? For a guy with billions, you played that cheap scam and still you were elected. You reached for your tax break while pushing the burden onto the backs of homeowners. Hypocrite.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has oddly taken a neutral stance, warning her former federal colleagues that they’d “better have a tight case, because if you’re going to take this shot, you’re not going to want to miss.”
But now she has an issue that may draw some eyeballs away from Madigan: Her vulgar commentary, immortalized in a defamation suit, allegedly directed at Italian Americans over those Columbus statues she’s put in her political prison.
I can’t even use the words she is alleged to have spoken on a Zoom call, referencing the size of Italian genitalia and her, oh…dammit…what’s the almost polite euphemism I’m looking for? Her “manhood?” I don’t want to believe it.
But then I hear about how she talks to senior police brass at closed-door meetings, and I believe it.
Madigan never talked that way to anyone. If he was upset, he’d just cut off those who upset him.
He’d cut them off from access, cut them off from the levers of his power, cut them off entirely. Some would whimper and grovel. And I figure that just like other bosses over the ages, Chicago Outfit bosses, even Boss Tweed of old New York, he’d listen to those whimpers for a while.
With the apple slices there on the linen napkin, his lips tight, his eyes growing wide, the sound of his molars grinding those apples, a disciplined man in complete control.
But now he’s not in control, is he?
He should have listened to his friends years ago. But he didn’t. Because there was one thing he couldn’t stand:
Not being the boss.
(Copyright 2022 John Kass)
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