Rahm Emanuel’s silent partner in mayoral campaign: Mike Madigan

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After staying neutral in the last race for Chicago mayor, Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan has provided major support to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of election records shows.

Dozens of soldiers in Madigan’s political army of government workers — including Patrick J. Ward, a former Metra employee at the center of the agency’s patronage scandal last year — collected signatures for nominating petitions to get Emanuel on the Feb. 24 ballot, the records show.

Madigan — the Illinois Democratic Party chairman who also runs the powerful 13th Ward Democratic Organization — didn’t endorse anyone for mayor four years ago, when Emanuel succeeded retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley. And Madigan has yet to announce an endorsement in the current mayor’s race.

But Emanuel’s petitions, submitted to elections officials on Monday, show 66 of the 374 signature gatherers for the mayor’s re-election bid also circulated petitions in the past five years for Madigan or candidates he backed, including his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan; state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison; and David Ellis, Madigan’s longtime top House lawyer, elected this month to the Illinois Appellate Court.

Madigan’s support, should it continue, would give the mayor a formidable group of door-to-door workers as the election draws near. Madigan’s ward organization — filled with city, state and Cook County employees — is legendary for fanning out from his Southwest Side power base to help Democrats win legislative races statewide.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that Democratic committeemen are supporting our efforts,” Emanuel campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry said Thursday. “The mayor has had a very constructive working relationship with both Speaker Madigan and [13th Ward] Alderman [Marty] Quinn, and we were happy to have members of their organization gathering signatures for the mayor.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown declined to comment.

Emanuel’s petition drive also got help from another of the speaker’s closest allies, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, the Cook County Democratic Party chairman. Berrios notarized two Emanuel petitions, and his relatives and political allies gathered signatures for the mayor. That’s a shift from 2011, when Berrios’ 31st Ward Democratic organization backed Emanuel rival Gery Chico.

Berrios said Emanuel “committed early” to supporting his re-election as assessor this year. “Him and I have become very close friends,” Berrios said. “We’ll be out there working for him.”

Madigan political workers who gathered signatures for Emanuel include:

◆ Ward, a key figure in the scandal that led to Alex Clifford getting a $718,000 severance package and leaving his post as Metra’s chief executive. Clifford accused Metra board members of forcing him out after he rebuffed Madigan about giving Ward a raise and refused to hire another Madigan loyalist. Ward left Metra and got a state job as a labor administrator after Madigan recommended him to Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration. Ward is paid $69,996 a year. As a retired city of Chicago employee, he also gets a $57,591-a-year city pension.

◆ Hugo Chavez and William E. Nambo, who were hired as “staff assistants” for the Illinois Department of Transportation under Quinn — a job class the state’s executive inspector general determined was designed to skirt anti-patronage hiring rules. Chavez resigned in May after a reprimand for an “unauthorized” absence from work in 2012 and for “insubordination” for bringing his dog to work last year against his boss’ orders, records show. Nambo gave $600 to Madigan’s ward organization four months after being hired at IDOT in April 2011. He now works in Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office.

◆ August A. Olivo, who has given $8,100 to the speaker’s ward organization and is the younger brother of former 13th Ward Ald. Frank Olivo. August Olivo, 52, is retired from the Cook County Highway Department and gets a pension of $81,204 a year. Since 2011, he’s been working for the CTA, where he makes $80,194 a year.

The most powerful ward organizations from the South Side — including Madigan’s — stayed out of the 2011 race or backed Chico. Emanuel had one Madigan connection, though: He hired longtime Madigan lawyer Mike Kasper as his election attorney, a post Kasper again holds.

On Monday, the first day of candidate filing, Kasper turned in about 43,000 signatures for Emanuel. It’s likely that paid petition-passers collected many of those signatures, as they did in the 2011 race. In September, the Sun-Times reported the campaign had put out a help-wanted ad offering to pay workers to help gather signatures

Candidates need 12,500 valid signatures from registered Chicago voters. Serious candidates typically try to get at least three times that number to discourage challenges to their petitions.

Only two others, both political unknowns, have submitted petitions to challenge Emanuel. But the filing period continues until Monday, and Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) and Democratic Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia have said they will challenge Emanuel.

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