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Brown: How a young Madigan beefed — and paid the price with Daley

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You probably would have never thought of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan as a “beefer” who would report a fellow public employee for loafing on the job.

Yet in a newly released interview with a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, Madigan tells the story of how very early in his career he informed on a political rival to get him out of the way — and how that led to his only falling out with the late-Mayor Richard J. Daley.

It’s an instructive story on many levels for Madigan, who clearly categorized the incident under Life Lessons Learned from a man he regarded almost as a second father figure.

It begins with Madigan’s first election — to the office of 13th Ward Democratic Committeeman in 1969 following the death of the incumbent, A.J. “Dom” Cantone. To fill the vacancy, a vote of the precinct captains was held.

“I won that election on July 31, 1969. I got 49 votes. The other guy got 31 votes,” Madigan told historian Robert Remini, who conducted the interview as part of UIC’s new oral history collection about Daley.

The other guy was the ward superintendent responsible for garbage pickup and street cleaning.


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The race dragged out for a month as four candidates in total jockeyed for what was then a much greater prize: Ward committeemen served as the primary conduit for Democratic patronage jobs.

“The Italians had a guy named Cardilli. The Polish had [the ward superintendent.] The Lithuanians had Savickas. The Irish had me,” Madigan said. “I won because I was able to put together a coalition of the Irish, the Lithuanians and the Italians.”

At the time, Madigan was just two years out of law school and working as a hearing examiner for the Illinois Commerce Commission in a job Daley had arranged.

Once he became committeeman, Madigan went about the business of building a strong ward organization based on patronage jobs for political workers who would do favors for voters.

“I saw that as how I would enamor myself for the mayor,” he explained to Remini. “This was the guy who wanted strong organizations, and if I build a strong organization, I’ll be viewed much better by the mayor than others.”

But there was a problem. The ward superintendent was still on the job, and he and Madigan remained at odds.

“Now, in those days, the ward superintendent was a very significant position for the functioning of the precinct captains,” Madigan said. “That’s because there were a lot of political favors that were done by the ward superintendents.”

“Somebody would be doing some minor construction work around their house. There would be a lot of concrete, and either they would pay a dump to dump it, pay a truck to haul it away, or get the city to come and take it away.”

Without the ward superintendent’s cooperation, the favors couldn’t flow efficiently.

RELATED: Brown: Madigan’s secret mantra: What would Richard J. Daley do?

Madigan knew all this quite well because his own father had been the ward superintendent before his death in 1966. Madigan even allowed that his father had put him to work on such a truck for a time.

Then Madigan “picked up information” that his rival was frequently absent from his city job to work as a funeral director.

“So I made a contact with a guy who was in charge of a unit at the city who was supposed to chase after these people who were off the job,” the speaker said.

He turned in the ward superintendent, and as punishment, he was moved to a desk job downtown. Problem solved.

Except the slacker had his own clout. He went to Daley, who ordered him restored as ward superintendent.

A miffed Madigan pleaded his case with Daley. The way the speaker tells it, things didn’t go well.

At the end of the meeting, Daley rose from his chair and told Madigan: “Well, you may not like it, but I’m the boss and this is the way that it’s going to be.”

“So, me being me,” Madigan related, “I said, ‘Okay, you’re right. You’re the boss. But do you know what? I’m going to prove you wrong.”

For the next nine months, Madigan paid the price for his impertinence. The mayor froze him out. But it could’ve been worse.

“I didn’t get to see him, but he didn’t cut off the patronage,” Madigan said. “That was the big thing — the patronage jobs.”

It still is.
Follow Mark Brown on Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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