“Himself” -- also known to his subjects as Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan -- has 109 days from Wednesday, Nov. 27, until the ides of March, on March 15, 2020.
What’s with the ides of March?
That’s the day Gaius Julius Caesar, emperor of Rome, learned the eternal truth that applies to the politics of today:
Only the most trusted of the trusted can betray you.
Caesar was stabbed in the back, front and sides by his friends and allies. Their calculations were simple. Their ambitions were worth more to them than loyalty to Caesar.
Lobbyists don’t wear togas. They wear suits and use cellphones. But tongues can cut just as deeply as blades, if the words dripping from them are captured on FBI wiretaps.
In Illinois, Boss Madigan, 77, is an emperor of sorts, a khan, a king. For decades, he’s controlled the laws made in Springfield and the drawing of those twisted state political maps that decide the balance of power. He’s the boss of the Illinois Democratic Party.
Though wealthy and powerful, he’s near the end of his reign. A sprawling federal investigation of political corruption is rolling from Chicago to Springfield.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime. Will the feds ever get him? I don’t know. But what was true for Caesar then, is true for Madigan now.
He can trust no one, not even the “Most Trusted of the Trusted,” a group of Commonwealth Edison lobbyists and other insiders put together by longtime Madigan loyalist and ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain.
McClain, who has not been charged and is now retired, reportedly asked the “Most Trusted of the Trusted” to contribute to select Democratic candidates to help Madigan maintain control of the House.
McClain also asked them to help take care of Madigan loyalist Kevin Quinn, whom Madigan was forced to fire after allegations emerged that Quinn sexually harassed women.
This revelation recently reported by the Tribune is a disaster for Madigan on several fronts. Yet, Democratic women legislators, so quick to use #MeToo as a cudgel on others, are relatively silent.
But in 2018, as Madigan was publicly on the side of women in the Kevin Quinn matter, writing an op-ed in the Tribune stating, “I have made it a personal mission to take this issue head-on and correct past mistakes. I wish I would have done so sooner,” something else was happening.
Madigan’s “most trusted” were taking care of Quinn on the side.
It might not be the feds that take Madigan down. It might be the Democratic women. Yet for now, their silence on this hypocrisy is their consent.
But all calculations are local and personal in the game of politics.
The story about McClain’s “Most Trusted of the Trusted” group, and the move to help Kevin Quinn, was reported in the Chicago Tribune by Ray Long and Jason Meisner.
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And just before that, they reported that federal authorities had placed wiretaps on McClain’s phone, the same McClain who refers to Madigan as “Himself” in the emails, the same McClain who has had dinner with Madigan in Springfield at the same places for decades.
I expect that “Most Trusted of the Trusted” list to show up on a screen in a federal courtroom, with prosecutors explaining the relationships. Madigan once relied on patronage workers. But in recent years, he has increasingly relied on lobbyists.
He controlled the legislation they wanted.
Since the FBI tapped McClain’s phone, could agents have bugged the salt shakers at the McClain/Madigan dinner table?
You may have forgotten about Counsellor’s Row, the restaurant across from City Hall, but Madigan forgets nothing. Chicago aldermen broke bread there and talked about their deals. The FBI bugged it and aldermen went down.
In the Long/Meisner story about McClain’s emails, there was this nugget:
“I cannot tell you how important it is to keep all of this confidential,” McClain warned Quinn in another email. “These men are sticking their necks out knowing full well if it goes public before you are exonerated, they will get the full blast from the ‘MeToo’ movement. So, please honor the confidentiality.”
Madigan is a silent sphinx on this. A mouthpiece issued a statement saying Himself was not involved:
“If a group of people were attempting to help Kevin Quinn, the speaker was not part of it.”
Verily, verily, say Madigan loyalists.
But not Democratic state Sen. Iris Martinez of Chicago, a candidate for Cook County circuit court clerk. She demanded Madigan fess up or resign from his post as party chairman.
She’s opposed in the clerk’s race by a Madigan Democrat, Michael Cabonargi, a member of the Cook County Board of (Tax) Review.
Isn’t that perfect? Madigan, who made his fortune in a private law practice reducing property taxes for wealthy landowners, backs a loyal board of review guy.
If only Madigan had been a Republican.
Then the full force of angry Democratic #MeToo women would be upon him. Virtue-signaling pundits would show their outrage. News reporters would stick microphones in the faces of all elected officials, demanding statements, declarations. Any who refused to join in would be publicly condemned as sexual harassment enablers.
But Madigan isn’t a Republican. He’s the Democratic boss. And this is blue Illinois.
“We always called you the ‘Most Trusted of the Trusted,” McClain wrote to his trusted Com Ed lobbyist friends. “So, again, on behalf of Himself, I thank you for ALL your work to help him and the (Democratic) Caucus.”
Politics is all about trust. Until it’s not. Ask Caesar.