Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the granite-like political force powered by an ironfisted gavel and Sphinx-like demeanor, suspended his push for a record-setting 19th term after support for him withered under the weight of the ongoing Commonwealth Edison bribery investigation.
While the cloud of that criminal investigation continues to hang over Madigan, the greatest political crisis to confront the Southwest Side Democrat has left him facing the possibility of not being able to finish out a one-of-its-kind political career on his own terms and effectively being driven from power.
But Madigan’s final act is hardly clear despite a statement issued under his name Monday that left much of Springfield’s political establishment confused, which is consistent with the speaker’s manner of holding the gavel and keeping friends and foes guessing about his next move.
“This is not a withdrawal,” Madigan said in a statement. “I have suspended my campaign for speaker. As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first. The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for speaker.”
The very first line of his statement made clear his pursuit of another term as speaker is not necessarily over.
And what wasn’t said in the statement was that the 51 House Democrats who currently appear to be in his camp based on a Sunday test vote have freedom to choose someone else. If those 51 Madigan loyalists have to remain in the speaker’s tent, it’s mathematically impossible for anyone else to reach 60 votes within the 73-member House Democratic caucus.
The speaker also could be laying the groundwork to play the role of kingmaker, shifting his support to someone else and retaining some measure of influence. Currently, no one else holds a larger group of votes than Madigan.
The speaker’s GOP counterpart, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, like many in Springfield, was perplexed at all of the possibilities and the real meaning behind the speaker’s latest maneuver ahead of Wednesday’s swearing-in of the new legislature.
“With 36 hours left before the swearing-in of a new General Assembly, Michael Madigan continues to create uncertainty and misdirection,” Durkin said. “His latest statement about suspending his bid for speaker, but not withdrawing, is typical of his style and appears to be another ploy or a head fake.
“For the sake of the institution, his caucus must demand that he be direct and honest about his intentions — in or out,” Durkin said.
Madigan’s move also was met with skepticism from within the group of 19 lawmakers that staked out early opposition to the speaker and blocked his reelection.
“Caution,” state Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Elmhurst, said when asked to assess the speaker’s statement. “Madigan is a master chess player, and this is a long game.”
Madigan’s short-term political fortunes suffered a devastating blow when House Democrats Sunday cast their first ballot for speaker and left a man often dubbed the most powerful politician in Illinois nine votes shy of locking up another term. He got 51 out of 73 votes, with Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, getting 18 and Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, getting three.
Madigan, 78, is the longest-serving speaker in any statehouse across the country or in Congress. First seated in the legislature in 1971 and elected House speaker in 1983, Madigan’s historic run in Springfield predated smartphones, the Internet and personal computers.
His career has spanned nine Illinois governors, nine Chicago mayors and eight presidents, and nearly half of the Illinois House’s members in December weren’t even born when Madigan first took office, according to state records.