IFEEL CORRUPT recommend someone for a job? That is the core of the case filed March 2 by the US Attorney’s office in Chicago, which charged Michael Madigan, until last year Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, with racketeering. Before resigning last year, Madigan was the longest-serving speaker in any state house in US history, having held the position for 36 years, from 1983 to 2021. His power in Springfield, the state capital, it was legendary. Nicknamed “the velvet hammer,” he could make and break careers. “He was the most powerful figure in Illinois,” says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
However, in the Land of Lincoln, such power rarely comes without great responsibility, in particular, to help the people who brought him there. The indictment alleges that Mr. Madigan used his charge to “cause various businesses to employ, contract and make direct and indirect monetary payments” to his political allies. The main company in question was CommonwealthEdison, an electricity supplier, which admitted its involvement in the scheme in 2020 and paid $200 million in fines. Madigan denies the charges. He argues that “the government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job referrals.”
The indictment is the largest of several cases currently unfolding in Chicago. Edward Burke, a veteran alderman (city council member), is due to stand trial over allegations that he used his position to boost business for his property tax appeals law firm, also one of the allegations against Mr. Madigan. Last month, Patrick Daley Thompson, another alderman and the nephew and grandson, respectively, of the two Richard Daleys (the mayors of Chicago for most of the period from 1955 to 2011), was found guilty of tax fraud, having written off interest that never actually paid on loans. of a failed bank on the south side. There are also several corruption cases pending in the city’s suburbs.
Some hope the cases signal the end of decades of sponsorship policy in Chicagoland. Madigan was a protégé of the first Daley, who used his power to distribute jobs to build not only local but national power. That model doesn’t work so well these days, though, thanks in part to a series of federal court rulings, known as the Shakman Decrees, that prohibited appointing people to non-political positions based on political loyalty. The number of jobs in the Chicago region that can be awarded to allies has shrunk from more than 40,000 at Daley’s heyday to less than 5,000 now, Simpson says. Federal prosecutors jump on anything that resembles old-fashioned politics. “We’re getting to the last gasp of the old machine,” he says.
However, as Madigan faces trial, some are raising questions about the state’s governor, JB Pritzker, a billionaire who was interviewed as a witness in the Madigan case by the FBI. According to WITHOUT, a Chicago radio station, the governor employed 35 people recommended by the former speaker. Among Pritzker’s projects in recent years has been trying to dismantle federal oversight of hiring. The machine may stutter, but it hasn’t come to a complete stop yet. ■
This article appeared in the US section of the print edition under the headline “Fading Machine”.