Judging by his low ratings in public opinion polls, there are many people in Illinois who think Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan isn’t good for much.
So it might come as a surprise to them that Madigan, the ultimate alpha dog, is good for a laugh.
It’s reported that, in private, the 77-year-old political power broker has a wicked sense of humor, which is entirely appropriate given how wicked he is.
But his penchant for generating laughs isn’t just a behind-the-scenes thing. Occasionally, he produces a belly-laugher in front of God and everybody.
That was the case when this week Madigan filed a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit against him. It alleges the veteran Chicago pol used his vast power to inappropriately influence the outcome of his winning March 2016 effort in a Democratic primary election.
Power? What power? I don’t have no stinkin’ power, Madigan effectively replied through his lawyer.
“Defendants dispute that defendant Madigan uses the numerous roles he holds to influence Democrats at all levels of government,” states Madigan’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by election opponent Jason Gonzales.
Not only does Madigan object, at least in this lawsuit, to being described as a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker, he also resents the use of the word “influence.”
He contends it is “unreasonably vague and ambiguous.”
In the past, Madigan has reveled in his role as the straw that stirs the drink, a mystery man of sorts who doesn’t reveal his cards until the last minute. He has acquired a slew of nicknames over the years that pay tribute of sorts to his political skills.
He’s called, among other things, The Diminutive Don, the Khan of Madiganistan, the Godfather, the Velvet Hammer. So it’s more than odd for him to respond to a suggestion that he’s a man of influence with an incredulous, “Little ’ol me?”
Yes, the little ol’ political leviathan.
Madigan has spent his entire adult life pursuing power solely for the purpose of obtaining and exercising even more power. He’s a master in that game, one who makes accomplished players look like little leaguers.
Writing about Madigan’s unduly modest statement, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Madigan is “widely considered the most powerful politician in Illinois.”
CapitalFax political analyst Rich Miller, a longtime Madigan observer, put the Sun-Times’ skepticism in more stark terms.
“Who in their right mind would ever believe that statement from Madigan’s attorneys?” Miller asked.
It’s important for Madigan to pretend in the Gonzales lawsuit that he has no clout and, more important, that Gonzales can’t prove that he does.
The lawsuit alleges that Madigan conspired with fellow Democrats to use his vast authority to arrange for two phony candidates to run against him and Gonzales in the 2016 Democratic Party primary. Gonzales alleges that Madigan’s unlawful goal was to run against three opponents instead of one — to divide the Hispanic vote.
Madigan easily won that election in his 22nd Illinois House district with 65 percent of the vote.
Running phony candidates is an oft-used political trick. While it’s dirty, it remains to be seen if it crosses a legal line.
What’s not open to dispute is the fact that Madigan has been, is now and will continue to be a political powerhouse until he no longer holds office.
He has been the politically powerful speaker of the Illinois House for all but two years since 1983. He’s also the longtime chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, a member of the Democrats’ state central committee and chairman of Chicago’s 13th Ward organization.
He deals harshly with fellow Democrats who cross him (his former chief of staff Gary LaPaille and state legislators Scott Drury and Ken Dunkin, to name just three). He’s also honeycombed government at all levels of government with patronage workers who owe him their loyalty as well as a portion of their paychecks to Madigan campaign funds.
It’s not just Gonzales’ lawyer who wants to pursue the issue of Madigan’s multifaceted role in Illinois politics and government. So, too, do federal prosecutors in Chicago.
They’ve recently conducted a series of raids on the homes of Madigan’s political friends and campaign workers. It’s not clear what they’re doing, but it seems to be clear who they are, ultimately, after. That’s even more proof that Madigan has more clout than he’s, at least for now, willing to acknowledge.