(Headline USA) Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who set much of Illinois’ political agenda as House speaker for four decades before his ouster last month, resigned his seat in the Legislature on Thursday.
Madigan, the longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history, was tarnished by a federal bribery investigation announced last summer.
He became an early mentor and ally of the ascendant Barack Obama as he rose up the ranks from the Illinois Senate to the US Senate to the White House in just 12 short years.
Although Obama already was well versed in the theories of Saul Alinsky from his days as a protege of Weather Underground mastermind Bill Ayers—and in his own right as a community organizer—he cut his teeth playing ruthless political hardball, Chicago style, under Madigan’s tutelage.
Madigan—who was also instrumental in turning Illinois solidly blue from the bellwether it had been for much of the 20th century—has not been charged in the federal probe and maintains his innocence.
But after being implicated, he lost his bid for a 19th term as speaker to Hillside Democrat Emanuel “Chris” Welch.
In a statement Thursday, Madigan, 78, did not explicitly state the reason for his departure after holding the post for 50 years.
“It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois,” Madigan said.
“The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered,” he continued. “I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois.”
In a letter to the House clerk, Madigan offered his resignation effective Thursday. In the earlier statement, he said it would take effect at month’s end.
In July, Madigan was implicated in a long-running bribery scheme involving the state’s largest electric utility, ComEd.
Court filings didn’t name Madigan but made it clear he was the person in documents referred to as “Public Official A.”
ComEd admitted it secured jobs, often requiring little or no work, and contracts for his associates from 2011 to 2019 for favorable treatment in regulations.
ComEd agreed in August to pay $200 million, though that settlement did not preclude criminal charges against any individual.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, Joseph Fitzpatrick, declined any comment on Madigan’s announcement Thursday but confirmed that the overall investigation is ongoing.
Shortly after the Justice Department revealed the probe, legislators began withdrawing support.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other prominent Illinois Democrats blamed the scandal for Election Day losses and sought his ouster as state Democratic Party chairman—a post he has held since 1998.
Democratic committee members from Madigan’s district on Chicago’s southwest side have 30 days to choose his successor, who would serve until Madigan’s term expires in January 2023. Madigan has been a ward committeeman since 1969 and controls 56% of the weighted vote in choosing a replacement, a spokeswoman said.
Himself a protégé of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, Madigan first came to Springfield in 1969 as a constitutional convention delegate.
He took a seat in the House in 1971, secured the speaker’s gavel in 1983, and proved his mettle by winning elections, losing his majority just once, from 1995-1997.
Madigan was long known for doling out jobs for political fealty, a practice that has drawn scrutiny. Opponents complained that his clout benefited his private law practice handling property appeals.
A wily strategist who kept his hand close to this vest, Madigan deftly juggled political paradoxes.
Despite knowing that Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was under federal investigation for corruption, Madigan chaired his 2006 reelection campaign, then later led the effort to remove him from office.
Madigan once spoke disparagingly of then-U.S. Sen. Obama, then sponsored legislation to erect Obama’s presidential library in Chicago.
He became a champion of overhauling the state’s pricey pension program while dealing with complaints that he was responsible for pension enhancements and too often skipping state contributions, creating a $140 billion shortfall.
He often was at his best when backed into a corner, like when his opposition to then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s conservative agenda led to a deadlock on the state budget for two years.
Rauner’s successor, Pritzker, who last fall demanded Madigan resign if he wouldn’t answer questions about the federal investigation, praised Madigan for “countless hours” of public service, singling out the Rauner years “when he served as the bulwark against constant cruelty to the most vulnerable.”
Republicans weren’t so generous.
“Rep. Madigan’s autocratic rule over the decades has not made Illinois a more prosperous nor competitive state,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.
“Our state is in shambles — financially, structurally and ethically,’ Durkin said. “New ideas and sincere collaboration between the parties is the only pathway forward.”
Welch, the new Illinois House speaker, touted Madigan’s “strong, sustained Democratic leadership” in approving same-sex marriage, abolishing the death penalty and establishing a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Barbara Flynn Currie, who spent half of her 40 years in the state Legislature as Madigan’s majority leader, noted his achievements in establishing a public-records access law, campaign contribution limits and expanded health care.
“He understood the meaning of public service: helping those in need and ensuring everyone a chance to succeed,” Currie said. “His legacy is a proud one.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press