Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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As new Gov. J.B Pritzker prepared to take office in January 2019, there was a feeding frenzy among aspiring politicos for jobs in his administration.

Many of them were looking for an inside track to get on Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s list of “recommendations for the new administration.”

An examination of that list by Chicago public radio station WBEZ shows that 37 people of the all-powerful Madigan’s list of 76 choices were accepted by Pritzker.

“The top-level Pritzker appointees whose names appeared on the long list of Madigan favorites also include three directors of Illinois government departments, the state’s superintendent of education, the heads of the workers compensation and two aides in the governor’s office,” WBEZ reported.

The news outlet obtained the list by filing freedom-of-information requests involving communications between Pritzker and the state’s four legislative leaders — Madigan, former Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, Republican Senate Leader Bill Brady and Republican House Leader Jim Durkin.

The record shows that Cullerton, Brady and Durkin made little effort to influence Pritzker’s personnel choices and had even less success.

Of Cullerton’s three recommendations, just one was appointed to a nonpaying post. Two of Brady’s 11 recommendations were accepted. Durkin’s sole recommendation was rejected. Meanwhile, nearly half of Madigan’s recommendations were accepted.

WBEZ concluded the information it uncovered “undercuts Pritzker’s long-running attempts to distance himself from Madigan.”

“The speaker’s vast effort to influence the personnel decisions of the new administration provides a sharp contrast to Pritzker’s repeated campaign promises to be his own man once elected to the Governor’s Mansion,” WBEZ stated.

A review of Madigan clout lists shows applicants seeking an array of positions — nonpaying positions, lucrative part-time offices and powerful posts at the highest levels of state government.

Madigan’s clout list includes two local names, Urbana lawyer Steve Beckett and former Urbana Democratic state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson.

Each was appointed to an unpaid post, Beckett to the board of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and Jakobsson to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

Beckett said he was unaware that his name was on Madigan’s clout list but that Madigan “called me and asked if it would be OK if he nominated me” for board consideration. A Lincoln history buff and former member of the library’s advisory board, Beckett speculated that Madigan was “pleased” with his work on the advisory board and made the appointment based on merit.

“But what do I know?” he said with a laugh.

At least two prominent former GOP officeholders made Madigan’s list — former Gov. Jim Edgar and former House Republican Leader Tom Cross. Edgar was appointed to the Lincoln library board and Cross was retained as chairman of the Board of Higher Education.

Two other Republicans who backed Madigan’s effort to win his long-standing budget battle with former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner were rewarded.

Former Republican state Rep. Steve Andersson of Geneva received a $122,000-a-year part-time job on the state’s human-rights commission, while former state Rep. David Harris of Mt. Prospect is paid $168,000 as director of the revenue department. Those appointments will significantly boost their already lucrative legislative pensions.

The vast majority of the recommendations, however, involved taking care of Madigan’s political associates or longtime loyalists, most prominently Madigan’s wife. He recommended that Shirley Madigan be retained in her long-held post as chairwoman of the Illinois Art Council.

Two union leaders — Jim Connolly and Jim Sweeney — were appointed to the board of the state tollway.

Madigan’s clout list recommended “something part-time” for Barbara Flynn-Currie, the speaker’s former majority leader in the House. She got a $124,000-a-year part-time job on the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

A former member of Madigan’s staff — Tiffany Newbern-Johnson — ended up as Pritzker’s deputy chief of staff.

Most of those on the list are anonymous insiders with grand ambitions for appointment to lucrative and powerful positions. Notations on Madigan’s clout list include:

— “interested in state superintendent of education.”

— “interested in paid board/commission position.”

— “interested in general counsel of the Dept. of Corrections.”

Madigan’s list reveals that he accepted recommendations on his recommendations from close friend Michael McClain, the longtime lobbyist who is at the center of the FBI’s corruption investigation involving Commonwealth Edison.

The phrase “Mike McClain recommendation” is linked to two subsequent Pritzker hires — Daniel Brink to the Prisoner Review Board and Troy Culbertson as superintendent of the Quincy Veterans Home.

Almost as interesting as the Pritzker hires are those Madigan recommendations the governor rejected.

Their names are blacked out, but the posts they sought or their other sponsors were not.

“Secretary of IDOT (resume sent)”

“Director of CDB or CMS (resume sent).”

“Interested in DOC director position.”

“Interested in assistant attorney general or similar role, Rep. Sue Scherer recommendation (resume sent).”

The governor’s office issued a statement scoffing at the idea that Madigan’s recommendations had anything to do with administration’s hiring decisions. It said some were going to be hired anyway and asserted that any suspicions about Pritzker’s independence from the deeply unpopular Madigan are “deeply misguided.”

Just how independent Pritzker is from Madigan depends on one’s perspective. However, since taking office, Pritzker has worked hand-in-glove with Democratic legislative leaders to pass legislation they all embrace.

At the same time, Pritzker has reversed his pledge to support an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would require non-political maps to replace the gerrymandered maps Madigan favors.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.