Seth Perlman/AP Photo
As one sexual harassment horror tale after another emerges from Springfield, I'm coming face-to-face with the heretofore seemingly unthinkable: It's only a matter of time before Michael Madigan is forced to step down from his positions of power.
That would include giving up being chairman of the state Democratic Party and maybe even speaker of the house.
I've got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I've never been a big Madigan fan.
Didn't like his style—too autocratic.
Didn't like the obvious conflict of interest between his profitable property tax appeal law firm—specializing in winning tax breaks for downtown property owners
—and his influence in selecting the judges and assessors involved in the process.
Thought he was too wimpy on key issues like progressive taxation— especially in 2014, when Dems may have had the votes to implement it.
didn't like how he let Mayors Daley and Rahm get away with anything so long as they left him alone to do his statehouse thing.
Daley, in particular, had free rein in Springfield—witness the legislation that enabled him to plow over 10 percent of suburban Bensenville
to expand O’Hare.
In the City Council, Madigan's handpicked 13th Ward alderman—be it Frank Olivo or Marty Quinn
—was a rubber stamp for every dumb-ass idea Daley or Rahm came up with, including the parking meter sale. No questions asked.
On the other hand . . .
Well, consider my reaction when I woke up the other day to read a story about panicky Democrats in California as they headed toward last week's congressional primaries.
They don't have party primaries in California like we do in Illinois. In California, all the candidates face off in one giant election called a "jungle primary." If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters face off in a runoff.
It's like Chicago's system for electing a mayor.
In many races where the Republican incumbent was vulnerable, there were several Democratic candidates going head to head, threatening to split the vote. So the runoff would feature, gulp, two Republicans.
The Dems stood to lose a chance to win seats they needed to win Congress and therefore one check on President Trump's power. Thus doing what Democrats do best—shoot themselves in the foot. Or feet, as the case may be.
My first reaction as I sat over a steaming cup of coffee, reading this story, was to exclaim to no one in particular: "Man, those California Democrats need a Michael Madigan!"
That is, a disciplined, cold-blooded tactician whose only goal is to beat the other party. Because, push come to shove, that's what it's all about—as any Republican will tell you.
If Madigan had been running the show in California, he'd have sicced his election lawyers
on nettlesome challengers to bounce them off the ballot. If he couldn't do that, he’d bombard them with those attack flyers he specializes in.
Anything to make sure there were at least one Democrat (preferably one in his control) in each race against a Republican.
And therein lies the problem for a lot of New Deal Democrats like myself as we face the prospect of life in Illinois without Madigan in charge.
For all the embarrassment and disgust with Madigan's statehouse, where flabby old guys harass women with lewd and lame comments, I have a sinking feeling that Republicans would take over without him.
Over the last three years, Madigan's been the key tactician who kept the party strong in the face of Governor Rauner's relentlessly anti-union, privatization, and school bankruptcy agenda.
Madigan absorbed the blows of Rauner's well-financed propaganda machine that's probably a lot closer to seizing power in the state than any of us want to consider.
Without Madigan leading the resistance in the house, I fear most Democrats would have rolled over in the face of Rauner's assault. Well, you certainly don't think Mayor Rahm would have stood up to his old wine-drinking buddy do you?
I'm not the only one who feels this way. It partly explains why there's been no open revolt against the speaker. Not even after one of his former political operatives, Alaina Hampton, went public with her account of how Madigan did nothing in response to her well-documented complaints of sexual harassment by Kevin Quinn, another political aide to the speaker.
Well, that and the fact that so many Democrats are afraid of him. He's a little like the J. Edgar Hoover of Springfield: he's got a little dirt on everyone. Step out of line and all of a sudden you're getting a call from a reporter who somehow or other got a little nugget of dirt on you.
Like I said, I have a hard time imagining a day where Madigan loses power. And yet I keep hearing rumors of more sexual harassment allegations to come against members of his machine.
How much more of this Madigan can sustain is anyone's guess. If it's any consolation, dear Democrats, consider this: Despite all their infighting, somehow those Dems in California managed to emerge from last week’s jungle primary with a candidate in every congressional race.
So maybe there's hope for the party, even without a Madigan at the top.