SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Wives of Rauner, Madigan closer than their husbands

SHARE SNEED EXCLUSIVE: Wives of Rauner, Madigan closer than their husbands

Diana Rauner and Shirley Madigan. | Sun-Times photos

It’s a tale of two women.

Two very different but powerful women married to men who manage the very contentious state of Illinois.

Both men, Gov. Bruce Rauner and the man described by the press as his nemesis, House Speaker and Dem party leader Michael Madigan, have been described in similar ways: “driven,” “introverted” and “workaholics.”

The “Battling Bickersons” would be more accurate.


But one of the best-kept secrets in Springfield is how well First Lady Diana Rauner and Madigan’s wife, Shirley  who is chairwoman of the Illinois Arts Council — get along.

“Diana and Shirley are like night and day personality wise, but they have a wonderful relationship and talk and text all the time,” said a top Sneed source.

“They may be acquaintances by association, but they are good friends. I’m told Shirley sends Diana friendly emojis all the time.

“They were excited about taking a trip to Rome together to see the investiture of Cardinal Blase Cupich, but I’m told Mike Madigan canceled because he didn’t want to go with Bruce Rauner,” added the source.

“Shirley is a role model,” Diana told Sneed in an exclusive and rare interview Friday, shortly after the historic school-funding deal was reached after months of tug of war.

Although Diana, an education expert, did not want to wade into the politics of school funding, she was game to talk about Shirley.

“Shirley Madigan is gracious to everyone. She rises above everything. Lovely, lovely to me. And very respectful of the work I do. We care about the same things. Education. Children. Family.

“And yes, we do talk about our husbands. But mostly in the family context.”

“She [Shirley] does her own thing, is sweet and incredibly expressive. She loves to use a ton of emojis when we text each other, so I feel stiff if I don’t throw them in, too. I just feel a great deal of respect for her,” Diana added.

“We often lunch at The Arts Club together and talk about our kids and her grandchildren. I love the fact she wears a rope around her neck containing the pictures of all her grandchildren.”

Sneed is told a very emotional Shirley was confronted by a member of the Arts Council months ago, practically accusing her of not resolving the state’s fiscal woes for failure to get her husband, the governor and Senate President John Cullerton on the same page.

“She broke down and cried,” said a Sneed source whose close friend attended the meeting.

“Well, it wasn’t quite like that,” Shirley told Sneed shortly afterward.

“But it was very emotional. This council member felt I should and could talk to them and fix things. I had also just lost a loved one. A terrible loss. I was very sad. Close to tears, I guess. I listened and was respectful, but we needed to finish the meeting.”

So how does Diana feel about speculation she was behind the recent communications shake-up in her husband’s press office and wields a powerful role behind the scenes as a Democrat married to a Republican?

“Look, I am fueled by gratitude and purpose,” Diana said.

“I get up every day grateful for the chance to serve. I have a goal of making the world a better place and lucky to be able to do so. I don’t spend a lot of time on the negative.

“I consider my husband and I warriors for social justice, and we don’t always agree on the methods to get there.

“But we wouldn’t be married if we did not share the same motivations and values. But I will say this: He is driven to do the right thing, not just the easy thing, and he wants nothing but to do a good job and help the people of Illinois.”

Diana is also president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership that prepares disadvantaged children for success in school and in life.

“I have served this cause under the administrations of Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn and my husband — and I will do so with the next administration, no matter who is in charge,” she said.

“I will never give up on my life’s work, although, I might add, there is nothing more important than my family.”

Sneedlings . . .

Ka-ching! Haul out the abacus: Actor Keegan-Michael Key, who starred in the Comedy Central sketch series “Key & Peele” and co-stars in the USA Network comedy series “Playing House,” is hitting the hustings to help fill the campaign coffers for Dem gubernatorial hopeful Chris Kennedy. A Second City alum and friend of Chris and the Kennedy family — having spent weekends with the family in Hyannis Port and who operated as former President Barack Obama’s hysterical alter-ego at a White House Correspondent’s Dinner — Key will headline the 5:30 to 7 p.m. Kennedy reception Sept. 8 at the Hubbard Inn. . . . Saturday’s birthdays: Keke Palmer, 24; James Harden, 28; and Melissa McCarthy, 47. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Chandra Wilson, 48; Aaron Paul, 38; and Cesar Millan, 48.

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