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Durbin avoids Lincoln museum dispute, just seeks professionalism

SPRINGFIELD-U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, stopped short Friday of backing the management shakeup of the facility proposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, insisting the only thing that matters is the facility be run “professionally.”

Madigan, D-Chicago, moved legislation out of the House earlier this week that would take the Lincoln museum from beneath the umbrella of the state Historic Preservation Agency and create an autonomous new agency to oversee it. The plan awaits Senate action.

“I want to make sure whatever agency runs the Lincoln presidential library and museum, it’s handled professionally. I want to see even more visitors. This has been such a success story,” Durbin told reporters at the Statehouse Friday morning.

Madigan is friends with the executive director of museum, Elaine Mackevich, and her long-time friend, Stanley Balzekas Jr., who also happens to be the landlord of the speaker’s district office.

The speaker has said he wasn’t influenced by his friendship with Mackevich and Balzekas but cited unfilled jobs at the facility and the complex being hamstrung by having to run all of its decisions through the state Historic Preservation Agency. Instead, Madigan has said, the museum should be allowed to “chart its own destiny.”

Durbin was asked if he had witnessed any shortcomings at the museum since it has been under operation of the state Historic Preservation Agency.

“It’s easy from the outside to look in. I think there are ways to market it more effectively. But the problem we face goes back to the earlier question: The state of Illinois doesn’t have the money for promotion and marketing for virtually anything,” Durbin said. “The foundation has done a good job, raising money for this Lincoln presidential library and museum. But I think it still has an untapped potential.”

Asked specifically if he favors Madigan’s bill, Durbin said, “I’m not going to make a decision on which agency, whether it’s historic preservation or some new independent agency. But I said to the speaker, I’m looking for professionalism in the way it’s managed.”