Madigan Leaves, Lausch Stays and the Battle is On for Party Boss
Michael J. Madigan has never been known as a man to make rash or hasty decisions.
His coolly calculating nature, strategic thinking, and penchant for playing the long game served him well while building a legendary career as the major power broker in Illinois Democratic politics, serving as state party chair since 1998 and Illinois House Speaker for almost four decades.
And Madigan has always been known as someone who carefully chooses his words with the precision of a surgeon, someone who says what he means and little more.
All of which makes recent events most curious.
Following a meeting to choose his successor as state representative in the 22nd House District from which he resigned, Madigan said he didn’t know if or when he’d be resigning as state party chairman.
“We haven’t gotten to that bridge yet,” said Madigan. Asked when that would be, he said “I have no idea. I don’t feel the need to step down.”
The very next day, apparently something happened to make that need more apparent. Madigan abruptly pulled the plug on his leadership of Illinois Democrats, while thanking the rank-and-file for the privilege.
“I want to use this opportunity to express how honored I have been to lead Illinois Democrats through both challenging and rewarding times,” Madigan wrote in a message to party members.
Just before Madigan reversed himself and told the party he was leaving, President Biden reversed his decision to remove Chicago’s U. S. Attorney, John Lausch.
Lausch has overseen the prosecution that most undermined Madigan’s political career, would be sticking around, even though he was appointed by President Trump.
Could the two events be related?
Lausch, who could have been packing his bags by the end of last week, will likely have another six months to a year on the job. His most prominent probe has been an investigation in which ComEd paid a $200 million dollar fine for a bribery scheme which allegedly directed money and jobs to Madigan allies in exchange for help with legislation.
Madigan’s top confidant, Michael McClain and several ComEd execs were indicted. All have pleaded not guilty. Madigan has been implicated in the scandal, but not charged and maintains his innocence.
Top Democratic leaders, however, suddenly saw Madigan as a liability. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth all called for Madigan to step down as party chairman soon after the November 2020 election.
That view may have also led top Democrats to intervene with the White House. When presidential administrations change, federal prosecutors are routinely replaced. It was Illinois’ two Democratic Senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, who lobbied the Biden administration urging that Lausch stay on the job.
“We are pleased the Biden Administration is acting on our request to retain U.S. Attorney Lausch until his successor is confirmed by the Senate,” said Durbin and Duckworth in a joint statement. “Mr. Lausch has served with professionalism and without partisanship.”
Madigan’s departure as party boss leaves a vacuum which immediately sparked a battle for control of Illinois’ Democratic Party, pitting Gov. Pritzker against Sen. Durbin.
Pritzker backed Chicago 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, as did Duckworth.
Durbin threw his support behind U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly.
The battle marks a rare split between Duckworth and Durbin, who is Duckworth’s foremost political mentor.
Ald. Harris is also City Council floor leader for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but Lightfoot says she’s staying out of the party fight. Lightfoot is also a friend of Rep. Kelly, who was one of Lightfoot’s early supporters for City Hall.
It all amounts to a proxy fight between Pritzker and Durbin to determine who is to be the new party boss. In most states, the governor controls his political party. With Madigan out of the way, and millions in personal funds to use for political purposes, Pritzker is anxious to show he’s the undisputed Top Democrat in Springfield.
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