Federal investigation exposes Madigan patronage
With House Speaker Mike Madigan’s longevity comes a patronage army paid with public dollars.
House Speaker Mike Madigan is set to become the longest-tenured state House speaker in U.S. history. But he started his career at the local level, when he was elected as Chicago’s 13th Ward committeeman in 1969.
He holds that office to this day. And he spoke about it in a 2009 interview as part of the oral history of his mentor, former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.
“I mean, everybody wanted to be a ward committeeman. They knew the power of the patronage system,” Madigan said.
“They wanted a job in the patronage system. I would tell them, ‘Yes, we can put you in a job. But you’re going to work for the Democratic Party.’ ”
A new investigation from a court-appointed “special master” published April 25 shows Madigan and other top officials, including Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino, continue to operate this way.
The investigation details how top Illinois Democrats used political juice to push preferred job candidates in the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, under former Gov. Pat Quinn.
Madigan had a role in placing at least seven individuals in staff assistant jobs at IDOT. The staff assistant position has become notorious in recent years as a patronage haven, and Gov. Bruce Rauner eliminated it in 2016.
The report told the story of one director-level employee at IDOT who was ordered to hire a Madigan pick “even though he lacked basic computer skills.”
Another unqualified individual Madigan’s office pushed, referred to as “Staff Asst. 8,” was allowed to resign after being arrested for assaulting Illinois state Rep. Edward Acevedo, according to the report.
Acevedo told the Chicago Tribune the assault allegation was not true.
Formerly a bricklayer, Staff Asst. 8 had responsibilities at IDOT that included monitoring minority-hiring complaints and “maintaining relationships” with minority road builders. He received two unusually high pay raises after being hired in 2009.
The report also reveals Illinois’ chief financial watchdog, Auditor General Frank Mautino, used his influence as a state representative to secure two staff assistant positions at IDOT. One individual previously worked at Mautino’s family distributor business.
Mautino is currently under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations.
Pattern of patronage
The House speaker’s shady political practices are nothing new.
A 2014 Chicago Tribune investigation in the wake of Madigan’s Metra patronage scandal found more than 400 current or retired government employees who worked elections for Madigan, donated regularly to his campaigns, registered voters on his behalf or circulated candidate petitions for him. That’s a conservative estimate.
“He’s been getting people jobs, getting promotions for his people, getting raises for his people. It’s what he does,” longtime Illinois political commentator Rich Miller said in an interview for a documentary on Madigan.
“Everybody pays tribute up, but from the top down they take care of you. And that’s how they get the loyalty,” Miller said.
University of Illinois-Chicago professor Dick Simpson echoed Miller.
“Mike Madigan controls your behavior because he controls your livelihood,” he said in an interview for the documentary. “Most people who see [patronage] want a higher position themselves so they keep their mouth shut.”
The investigation notes Quinn established the Illinois Reform Commission in 2009 in the wake of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest and impeachment. This commission recommended a series of reforms to strengthen state hiring processes.
But investigators found that those reforms “were never fully implemented.”
Lack of accountability is evident in the fact that at least 36 employees who were improperly gifted staff positions at IDOT remain employed by the state, according to the Rauner administration.
Due to collective bargaining protections, these employees cannot be fired. But Rauner filed a motion April 26 asking a judge whether these illegal hires could actually be protected under the state’s agreement.
Firing these employees en masse would send a strong message of transparency. And full implementation of the commission’s recommendations would be a commonsense structural reform to prevent patronage.
Just don’t count on Madigan to lead the charge.