Liberal women who serve in the Illinois General Assembly have been particularly outspoken about the need for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan to resign in light of allegations that he was in the middle of a nine-year bribery conspiracy involving Chicago-based utility Commonwealth Edison.
But two local women who served with Madigan in the Illinois House say they are reserving judgment about him until much more is known about the criminal conspiracy that ComEd has admitted and Madigan has denied.
Laurel Prussing, the longtime Urbana mayor, said it
was her impression both when she served her one term with Madigan and now that “he tried to do things right.”
“I was under the impression that he was very careful to follow the law,” said Prussing, who served in the House from 1993-95.
Her predecessor in the House, Helen Satterthwaite, who served from 1975-93, cautioned that her perspective on Madigan is “pretty outdated.”
“I don’t really have a good opinion on (the ComEd scandal) because I don’t know all the details. It looks pretty damning,” she said. “I’m reserving judgment as to what should be done to him or by him.”
Naomi Jakobsson, a third local former Democratic legislator who served from 2003-15, declined to comment on the Madigan controversy. As a University of Illinois trustee, she said it’s not appropriate for her to become involved in political controversies.
Federal prosecutors in late July named Madigan as the key player in a years-long conspiracy in which the utility paid large sums of money to Madigan’s friends and associates in exchange for winning his support of legislation favorable to the utility.
The federal announcement came as ComEd agreed to a three-year deferred-prosecution agreement in which it pledged to pay a $200 million fine, cooperate with the criminal investigation and make operational changes to ensure similar misconduct is not repeated in the future.
Ironically, ComEd was in federal court Wednesday, where it pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges to which it admitted as part of the deferred prosecution agreement. It entered the “not guilty” plea because if it meets the requirements of its agreement with the government, criminal charges against the company will be dismissed.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has been joined at the hip with Madigan, has tried to distance himself from the speaker. He has called for Madigan to publicly answer questions about the allegations, something Madigan mostly certainly will not do. The governor has also said he will not give money to Madigan campaign committees.
Madigan has used his campaign funds to pay his huge legal bills.
So far, at least nine members of the General Assembly have called for Madigan to step down both as House speaker and as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
The latest is state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe of Chicago.
”I’m not really interested in issuing a press release or making a big announcement, but yes, I think he should resign. That’s what I’m prepared to say on the record,” she said.
Of considerably less importance was a similar demand made by six Chicago aldermen/alderwomen.
Neither Satterthwaite nor Prussing had any unflattering comments to make about him.
Satterthwaite said she was “pretty well established” as a Democratic legislator when Madigan moved into a House leadership roles.
As a consequence, she felt immune to any political pressure he might apply and found him helpful in moving legislation that she proposed.
“I found Madigan was always respectful if I wanted to have a conversation with him,” she said. “I felt I could go to his office and talk to him.”
Since she’s left Springfield, Satterwaite said he’s become “much more powerful,” and she questioned his long tenure.
“I don’t think anybody should feel so entrenched that they can’t be put out of office,” she said. “The longer you are speaker, the more you feel entitled to it.”
The 78-year-old Madigan, first elected to the Illinois House in 1970, has held the powerful speaker’s post for all but two years since 1983.
Unlike Satterthwaite, Prussing said she has no problems with an officeholder’s long tenure.
“You should be judged on what you do rather than how long you’ve been there,” she said.
The former Urbana mayor, like Satterthwaite, characterized Madigan as “cordial,” “respectful” and “businesslike.”
“I never had any run-ins with him. I felt his staff was excellent. I felt he tried to keep his members happy,” she said.
Champaign-Urbana is currently represented in the Illinois House by state Rep. Carol Ammons. She was among a number of House members who said Madigan should resign if he is found to have engaged in the wrongdoing the government has alleged.
While ComEd has been charged with a criminal offense, Madigan has not and neither have any other of his alleged co-conspirators, most importantly close friend Michael McClain.
While there’s no doubt that Madigan has become the target of prosecutors, there’s considerable speculation among those who have followed him over the years that investigators won’t be able to come up with enough evidence to indict.
For now, Madigan is adamant in his determination to continue to hold both posts. If, however, he is indicted, he’ll face the Arroyo precedent that he himself established last year.
After former state Rep. Luis Arroyo was hit with a federal bribery charge, Madigan cited it as grounds for forcing Arroyo to resign his seat.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-
Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.