Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan is pulling the plug on a half-century political career, giving up his last party post and ending a troubled chapter in Illinois politics.
Madigan, 81, will not seek reelection as the 13th Ward Democratic committeeperson — an elected position he’s held since Richard J. Daley was mayor and Richard Nixon was in the White House.
Thirteenth Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, a Madigan protege whom he shared office space with, is circulating petitions for the spot, according to Quinn’s spokeswoman. Madigan’s federal racketeering trial is set for April 1 — 13 days after the March 19 Illinois primary.
Madigan, also the former head of the Illinois Democratic Party, is accused of leading a criminal enterprise for nearly a decade, aimed at enhancing his political power and generating income for his allies and associates. He is charged with racketeering conspiracy and using interstate facilities for bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion. Madigan has pleaded not guilty.
In February 2021, Madigan, the longest-serving statehouse speaker in the country, resigned from the House seat he had held since 1971 and quit his post as head of the Illinois Democratic Party, a job he held since 1998.
Madigan had not been charged with any wrongdoing at the time, but pressure had grown for his ouster, as he became increasingly toxic to other Democrats in competitive races. His decision not to run for committeeperson was first reported by CapitolFax.com.
As of June 30, Madigan’s campaign committee had $6,380,227.32 cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports. Since January 2020, Madigan has spent nearly $9 million on legal fees through campaign funds he controlled.
It was in the 13th Ward — on the back of a dump truck in the 1960s — that Madigan started his meteoric rise in politics. In his 20s, he got a job hauling concrete and other refuse away from construction sites through his father, the Streets and Sanitation superintendent of the 13th Ward. That Southwest Side would become the nexus of Madigan’s own political powerhouse.
That’s how Madigan recalled it in a 2009 interview with archivists from the University of Illinois Chicago as part of an oral history of the city’s iron-fisted late Mayor Richard J. Daley, whom he considered a mentor.
In 1969, he became a ward committeeperson under Daley, which gave him ultimate power over handing out patronage jobs of his own.
Known as the “Velvet Hammer” for his quiet, forceful style of leadership, his exit from the political stage has been incremental, with the speakership and his control of the state party — and campaign funds — the most meaningful of his departures. Madigan had served as speaker from 1983 until 2021 — with a two-year break in 1995 when Republican state Rep. Lee Daniels became speaker. He was also the only legislative leader in the country to lead a state party.
“I’m inclined to say that the Madigan era ended when he relinquished the speakership, (so) the end of his parallel career in Chicago politics is a footnote,” said Brian Gaines, Arrington professor in state politics for the University of Illinois system. “I say that as someone who has often complained that one reason Springfield has been hard to clean up is that residents of the greater Chicago area pay far more attention to city politics than state politics, and end up largely missing one batch of stories about corruption and mismanagement in public office.”
Madigan weathered convicted governors, countless legislative battles, a three-year budget impasse and millions of dollars worth of attack ads, but in the end, it was the federal investigation into the longtime Democrat and his allies that finally ended the statehouse adage, “Never bet against the Speaker.”
Both Madigan’s departure from his earliest elected position, and who will likely take the post, are unsurprising within Chicago’s political landscape. But some are raising concerns.
“It’s hard to say that this represents any meaningful change, given Ald. Quinn’s tenure leading MJM’s political organization, where so much of the greatest abuses of power were central to day to day operation,” state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, wrote in a text message.
Cassidy in 2018 led criticism of Madigan’s handling of sexual harassment claims within his political organization. She later accused former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes of calling her part-time employer a form of intimidation, saying she was forced to resign as political payback for her criticisms.
Mapes last month was convicted by a federal jury of perjury and attempted obstruction of justice for repeatedly lying to a grand jury about work done for Madigan by Michael McClain, who is also charged with racketeering and faces trial alongside Madigan next year.