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The Girl Can't Help It

Why Lisa Madigan seems destined to join her father in springfield.



There are two theories as to why house speaker Michael Madigan is working to elect his daughter to the state senate. There's the southwest-side theory, which says that Madigan is a loyal father helping his daughter's career. Then there's the north-side theory: white south-side political bosses are losing their home turf to blacks and Latinos, and are looking to the white wards of the north lakefront to continue their families' political dynasties.

Whichever theory you believe, you may soon be hearing this phrase: state senator Madigan. Lisa Madigan, a 31-year-old lawyer with the firm of Sachnoff & Weaver, is considered a dead cert to win the Democratic primary on March 17. Some observers believe Madigan could roll up two-thirds of the vote against incumbent Bruce Farley, who was indicted last year for allegedly collecting $172,000 in wages and benefits in a ghost payrolling scam at the Cook County treasurer's office. If Farley's trial begins as scheduled on March 2 it could generate a lot of unflattering headlines in the fortnight before the balloting.

It's not just luck that's allowing Lisa Madigan to run alone against such a vulnerable incumbent. Thanks to the work--and the intimidating reputation--of her father's political machine, other aspirants have been muscled out of the way. State representative John Fritchey decided not to run after realizing he could never outspend her; Madigan's rumored to have $400,000 at her disposal. Paul Rosenfeld, executive director of the River North Association and a former aide to 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell, dropped out last month--because, he says, after Madigan entered the race someone tattled about an old marijuana arrest. Despite the fact that the charges were dropped and Rosenfeld's record expunged, Mell decided he was unelectable. If Madigan wins the primary, the only person standing between her and the statehouse will be Green Party candidate Marc Loveless.

Some ward committeemen in the 17th Senate District--which takes in parts of Uptown, Ravenswood, North Center, Lakeview, Logan Square, Lincoln Park, Bucktown, and the near north side--are grumbling about an invasion from the south. But Lisa Madigan points out that while she may be an outsider in north-side politics, she's not an outsider in the community. She was born at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and lived near the corner of Wellington and Broadway until she was ten, when her mother, Shirley, a law firm receptionist, married Michael Madigan. Throughout her "exile" on the southwest side Madigan attended the Latin School, and in 1989, after studying government at Georgetown University and teaching for a year in South Africa, she returned to the north side for good. She certainly fits in with the young lakefront professionals she wants to represent. When she's engrossed in campaigning her lunch is sometimes a PowerBar, but at dinnertime you might find her at one of the specialty cuisine restaurants--Hi Ricky, El Tapatio, Moti Mahal, Smokin' Woody's, and Cafe 28--near her home at Greenview and Cornelia.

"I was a north-sider who just happened to have to go live in a house on the southwest side," Madigan says.

For the sake of her current ambitions, it was a stroke of tremendous fortune that that southwest-side house contained the most powerful Democrat in Illinois. Michael Madigan not only provided his stepdaughter with a home, he gave her an education in politics. When the legislator was courting her mother, Lisa had to ask, "What's a politician?" Michael Madigan taught her. Every summer she went down to Springfield to see him at work. Often she joined him at his desk as an honorary page.

(Madigan's parents divorced when she was two, and she hasn't seen her biological father in nearly 20 years. When she was 18 she had her name legally changed to Madigan, in honor of the man she considers the true father figure in her life.)

"I remember being on the floor of the house when they were debating and voting on the Equal Rights Amendment," she said. "There were some very impassioned speeches. When something that serious came up, you remember--because the whole tone is different. They really clear everybody off the floor, and so being able to watch those things has a real impact on you."

After graduating from Georgetown, Madigan went to South Africa through a program sponsored by the university. She taught English to Zulu girls in a segregated country school so poor that "you had a chalkboard, and if you were lucky a piece of chalk." Her first job back in Chicago was in the continuing education department at Wright College. She helped the police set up an after-school program for Austin schoolchildren, and started computer classes for seniors. Cynthia Clontz, who's now dean of the department, was impressed with how serious and mature Madigan, then in her mid-20s, seemed.

"She has an appreciation for how education can change people's lives when there's social or economic barriers," Clontz said. "For such a young woman, she had a deep respect for the senior citizens and an expectation that they wanted to learn and grow."

At the same time, Madigan was involved with the Inspiration Cafe, which provides free meals for the homeless in Uptown. According to Fern Bogot, president of the board of directors, one year an art auction she organized raised 10 percent of the cafe's annual budget. "She's very organized, very dynamic, very sharp, and you know she's not kidding around," Bogot said.

Madigan still loves social work. During her door-to-door campaigning she's been asking voters to donate old clothes. Her warehouselike Ashland Avenue campaign office is clogged with boxes of garments marked for north-side social service agencies.

Professionally, Madigan has built a career without much help from her father. Politically, some consider her as independent of Michael Madigan as the Muppets were of Jim Henson.

"An appendage of Mike Madigan," scoffs Victor Crown, associate editor of Illinois Politics. Crown sees her campaign as "another invasion from the south. They've run out of wards on the south side to take over, and so they come up here to impose their morality on the north side."

Crown believes white south-side pols are trying to take over the north side because their children will always be able to win elections there. The southwest-side wards are slowly being infiltrated by minorities who wouldn't vote Irish even though this year's primary will be held on Saint Patrick's Day. But high property values in Lakeview and Lincoln Park will keep those neighborhoods white indefinitely. Former Cook County assessor Thomas Hynes is another south-side politician trying to move the family business north. His son Dan is running for state comptroller--from an address in Lincoln Park.

Complaints that the south side was moving in were voiced this month at a caucus of 20 north-side ward committeemen at O'Brien's Restaurant, according to 47th Ward committeeman Ed Kelly, who chaired the meeting.

"I think they were upset because they felt like they were being invaded," said Kelly, who slated Bruce Farley for his first political office, state representative, back in 1972. According to machine protocol, Kelly explained, Farley deserved to have his party behind him. "And God forbid, if something happens" that would force him to resign--namely, a conviction on the ghost payrolling charges--Kelly and the other committeemen would pick his successor. (Fritchey has been mentioned.)

Both Madigans insist that there is no south-side conspiracy. Running for office, they say, was Lisa's idea.

"She raised it to me in December of 1996," Michael Madigan said. "I tried for weeks to persuade her not to do it. I thought she was doing very well as a lawyer. But her view prevailed."

Once he was won over, the speaker didn't just give his daughter his blessing--he let her borrow his political machine. Two of Lisa's campaign staffers, Novia Pagone and Rob Biederman, used to work for the house Democratic staff, which is controlled by the speaker.

"I've talked with people I've known for a long time and asked them to support her, both financially and 'Would you talk to people?'" Michael Madigan said.

Lots of folks are dying to do favors for the speaker of the house, so there's been a huge outpouring of support. Last fall, volunteers from the 13th Ward blanketed the 17th District with campaign flyers. Lisa Madigan could afford to distribute service literature--including a Neighborhood Watch sign with the numbers of the local police district on the back along with a personal plug, and a piece telling residents (in English and Spanish) how to register to vote. There are now so many Madigan signs propped up in the windows of Lakeview cafes and dry cleaners that she probably has higher name recognition than Farley, who has represented the community for 25 years but is an indifferent campaigner and hasn't connected with the young college grads who have been moving into the district for years.

Because Michael Madigan is working so hard to get his daughter elected, some of Lisa Madigan's opponents are saying she'll do her father's bidding in the senate and may threaten the independence of the senate Democratic caucus by leaking details of its deliberations to the speaker. But Lisa Madigan argues that the two differ on some issues, especially abortion (he's pro-life; she's pro-choice).

Lisa Madigan has some original ideas on education: for example, she would like to see the state fund more Early Head Start programs for children three years old and under, and she says she'll push to get more state aid for technology in Chicago public schools. She also favors allowing apartment dwellers in her high-rent district to deduct part of their rent from their taxes.

"I don't have any concerns about my ability to be independent of my father," she said. "A lot of what you end up hearing is more hype than reality."

Now climb the newly carpentered steps of the Lincoln Square headquarters of the 47th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. Here's where Bruce Farley has his district office. Farley went to Springfield as a state representative in 1972. In 25 years there he has compiled a workmanlike record. Recently he helped write a law allowing women who are victims of domestic violence to receive an immediate order of protection from a judge. He also sponsored legislation prohibiting telemarketers from calling after 9 PM. On health care, one of the senator's favorite issues, he sponsored a bill that guarantees women a hospital stay of at least 96 hours after a mastectomy, and requires insurers to pay for mammograms for women over 40 (the previous minimum age was 50). In this legislative session, he says, he wants to "go after the insurance companies" by prohibiting them from setting minimum hospital stays after any procedure.

None of these has been a headline-making issue, though. The one issue on which Farley has made a name for himself recently is gay rights. Eager to help the gay constituents who began moving into his district in the 1970s, he has tried, unsuccessfully, to add "sexual orientation" to the state's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and credit transactions.

"Senator Farley has been excellent on gay-lesbian issues, and he's been a leader on issues that affect sexual minorities in Springfield," said Rick Garcia, political director of the Illinois Federation for Human Rights. "We've absolutely endorsed him, and he has our full and total support."

Not all of Farley's constituents are so impressed with his record: some consider him a machine hack who does little work and relies on ward bosses to get reelected. In Chicago, state legislators aren't the celebrities they are downstate, but Farley is anonymous even by local standards. His legislative work rarely makes the papers, and he is seldom seen at community events.

It's been an uninspired legislative career, but the 54-year-old Farley has never tried to be a star in Springfield. Farley is a loyal Democratic soldier. He's loyal to his ward. He started out doing precinct work when he was 18, and 11 years later was rewarded with a seat in the General Assembly. While there he was so loyal to his speaker that the Tribune once called him "one of Speaker Madigan's obedient ducklings." When Farley found out that Michael Madigan's daughter was after his seat, he felt he'd been stabbed in the back. First he'd been indicted, now he was being deserted by a man whose nomination for speaker he had once stood up to second.

"I was very disappointed in that," Farley rumbled in his deep, phlegmatic voice, as his thick fingers slowly turned over a yellow Chicago Police Department ruler on his desk. "I served in the house for 20 years with Mike Madigan. I was always loyal to Mike Madigan. I'm an incumbent state senator. If this were an open seat then I think it's fair game for anybody that chooses to present themselves to the electorate, not that she's not entitled to do that now. Everybody still is, but it seems to me that if you've been loyal to somebody--not just Mike Madigan--but if you've gotten along with the political leaders in the district, the aldermen and the committeemen, and you're the incumbent and have a good record and are not feuding with those people, then you should be supported and endorsed by those people. I'm an old-fashioned guy when it comes to a loyalty situation, and I feel that I was betrayed."

Farley came up in the machine, and he still believes in its rules for political advancement: you work your way up through your local ward organization, you wait for an open seat, you present your credentials to the local committeemen, you get slated on the Democratic ticket, you go to Springfield. In his mind, as in the mind of Ed Kelly, Lisa Madigan hasn't earned the right to run for the state senate. As Kelly said, "It's not something that's done when someone's an incumbent."

Farley was considered vulnerable even before he was indicted last July by former U.S. attorney Jim Burns--who at one time had Michael Madigan's support in his campaign for governor. According to the indictment, Farley and state representative Miguel Santiago worked out a "special deal" with Cook County treasurer Ed Rosewell under which "neither Farley or Santiago would sign in for work, but would receive paychecks." The deal allegedly lasted from January 1990 to August 1995, when Farley resigned from Rosewell's staff after reports of the federal investigation appeared in the press. (Santiago has just resigned from the house.)

Farley, who held the titles of "Clerk II, Duplicate Payment Supervisor" and "Administrative Assistant V in the Refund Section of the Finance Division," has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says he "absolutely" did the work for which he was paid.

"I hope that people voting in that primary will read my record, will judge me on my record," Farley said, "not on some charges which I think were politically motivated, for a number of reasons, to advance Burns's candidacy."

Did Burns indict Farley to soften him up for Lisa Madigan?

"You speculate on that stuff," Farley shrugs. "I get indicted. His daughter runs for my seat. You can read a lot into those things."

Michael Madigan said he presumed that because of the ghost payrolling charges Farley wouldn't run, although he admits he never asked Farley. He dismisses the accusations of betrayal, saying "Bruce and I had a good working relationship over many years. It was not a relationship where it was all one way. He got things. I got things."

It looks as if the next thing Farley is going to get from Michael Madigan is an electoral whipping, the kind usually reserved for Republicans in that part of town. If Lisa Madigan wins, though, it will mean more than the speaker adding Lakeview to his political holdings. It will mean that power in the district has been passed from older white ethnics to the under-45 generation of white yuppies. Lisa Madigan, said one longtime Lakeview resident who received a campaign visit, represents "the new Lakeview," the Lakeview that goes to an obscure Polish movie at the Music Box then crosses the street to drink cafe au lait at Cafe Avanti. Madigan is a yuppie. Farley, who attends Saint Benedict's Church and remembers when houses in Lakeview sold for $40,000, is an ethnic. You don't even have to look at them to realize this. Just listen. Madigan speaks in the frank, bright, unaccented tone favored by interviewers on NPR's Morning Edition. Farley's voice is Chicago-ese, the same voice you hear in police stations and on road repair sites.

Victor Crown believes that Kelly and the other committeemen can produce one more win for the north-side machine. Madigan's "transients," he says, the young lawyers and marketing strategists camping out in Chicago until they accumulate enough money and kids to move to Deerfield, will be too busy riding the Red Line to work in Prudential Plaza and coming home to watch Mad About You to vote in an off-year Democratic primary. He predicts the machine-loyal home owners and senior citizens will elect Farley.

Few agree with Crown. Observers say that Farley, who still hasn't sent out a campaign mailing, isn't even trying to win and the district's committeemen aren't going to waste their precinct workers on him. Kelly says his organization will fight for Farley but will "be happy to support Madigan" if she wins. Kelly's so weak politically, though, that in 1996 he couldn't even get his protege Luke Howe elected to the General Assembly.

"I think this race is over," said a prominent Democrat in the district. "Farley isn't campaigning. He doesn't show up at community events. The speculation on the street is that he's going to ride it out, keep his name on the ballot, and keep his war chests for his trial."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marc PoKempner/ Bruce Farley uncredited photo.

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