SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who set much of Illinois’ political agenda as House speaker for four decades before his ouster last month, resigned his seat in the Legislature on Thursday.
Madigan, the longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history, was tarnished by a federal bribery investigation announced last summer. Madigan — who was instrumental in turning Illinois solidly blue from the bellwether it had been for much of the 20th century — has not been charged in the federal probe and maintains his innocence. But after being implicated, he lost his bid for a 19th term as speaker to Hillside Democrat Emanuel "Chris" Welch.
In a statement Thursday, Madigan, 78, did not explicitly state the reason for his departure after holding the post for 50 years.
"It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois," Madigan said. "The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois."
In a letter to the House clerk, Madigan offered his resignation effective Thursday. In the earlier statement, he said it would take effect at month’s end.
In July, Madigan was implicated in a long-running bribery scheme involving the state’s largest electric utility, ComEd. Court filings didn’t name Madigan but made it clear he was the person in documents referred to as "Public Official A." ComEd admitted it secured jobs, often requiring little or no work, and contracts for his associates from 2011 to 2019 for favorable treatment in regulations. ComEd agreed in August to pay $200 million, though that settlement did not preclude criminal charges against any individual.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, Joseph Fitzpatrick, declined any comment on Madigan’s announcement Thursday but confirmed that the overall investigation is ongoing.
Shortly after the Justice Department revealed the probe, legislators began withdrawing support. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other prominent Illinois Democrats blamed the scandal for Election Day losses and sought his ouster as state Democratic Party chairman — a post he has held since 1998.
Democratic committee members from Madigan’s district on Chicago’s southwest side have 30 days to choose his successor, who would serve until Madigan’s term expires in January 2023. Madigan has been a ward committeeman since 1969 and controls 56% of the weighted vote in choosing a replacement, a spokeswoman said.
A protégé of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, Madigan first came to Springfield in 1969 as a constitutional convention delegate. He took a seat in the House in 1971, secured the speaker’s gavel in 1983, and proved his mettle by winning elections, losing his majority just once, from 1995-1997.
Madigan was long known for doling out jobs for political fealty, a practice that has drawn scrutiny. Opponents complained that his clout benefited his private law practice handling property appeals.
A wily strategist who kept his hand close to this vest, Madigan deftly juggled political paradoxes. Despite knowing that Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was under federal investigation for corruption, Madigan chaired his 2006 reelection campaign, then later led the effort to remove him from office. Madigan once spoke disparagingly of then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, then sponsored legislation to erect Obama’s presidential library in Chicago.
He became a champion of overhauling the state’s pricey pension program while dealing with complaints that he was responsible for pension enhancements and too often skipping state contributions, creating a $140 billion shortfall. He often was at his best when backed into a corner, like when his opposition to then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s conservative agenda led to a deadlock on the state budget for two years.
Rauner’s successor, Pritzker, who last fall demanded Madigan resign if he wouldn’t answer questions about the federal investigation, praised Madigan for "countless hours" of public service, singling out the Rauner years "when he served as the bulwark against constant cruelty to the most vulnerable."
Republicans weren’t so generous.
"Rep. Madigan’s autocratic rule over the decades has not made Illinois a more prosperous nor competitive state," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs. "Our state is in shambles — financially, structurally and ethically. New ideas and sincere collaboration between the parties is the only pathway forward."
Welch, the new Illinois House speaker, touted Madigan’s "strong, sustained Democratic leadership" in approving same-sex marriage, abolishing the death penalty and establishing a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Barbara Flynn Currie, who spent half of her 40 years in the state Legislature as Madigan’s majority leader, noted his achievements in establishing a public-records access law, campaign contribution limits and expanded health care.
"He understood the meaning of public service: helping those in need and ensuring everyone a chance to succeed," Currie said. "His legacy is a proud one."
Full statement from Michael J. Madigan
"Today I am announcing that I will resign as state representative of the 22nd district at the end of the month. It has been my great honor to serve the people of Illinois as speaker of the House and state representative of the 22nd District. This journey would not have been possible without my wonderful wife, Shirley, and children, Lisa, Tiffany, Nicole and Andrew, who have stood by my side year after year, providing their love and support despite the pressure of growing up in the public spotlight. I am fortunate to have them in my life.
"Fifty years ago, I decided to dedicate my life to public service. Simply put, I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I believed then and still do today that it is our duty as public servants to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and help hardworking people build a good life. These ideals have been the cornerstone of my work on behalf of the people of Illinois and the driving force throughout my time in the Illinois House.
"As speaker, legislator and member of the Illinois Constitutional Convention, I worked to make the General Assembly a co-equal branch of government, ensuring it acted as a check on the power of the governor and the executive branch, especially around a governor’s abuse of the amendatory veto. Many heated battles were fought to keep governors from rewriting legislation sent to them by the General Assembly.
"I am particularly proud of our work to increase the diversity of voices in the House Democratic Caucus to include more women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. In my tenure as Illinois House speaker, we worked to elect representatives across all backgrounds and beliefs to truly represent the interests of the people of our state.
"With the partnership of this diverse and talented group of Illinois Democrats and with our colleagues across the aisle, we were able to level the playing field and strengthen the middle class while workers in other states saw their wages diminished.
"We achieved school funding reform to increase investment for schools in need and address inequalities in our state’s education system. We made Illinois a welcoming state by passing the Illinois Dream Act and providing drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents.
"We strengthened the rights of workers, increased the minimum wage, expanded access to health care for Illinois’ most vulnerable residents, and protected a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.
"We upheld the rights of all Illinois residents by passing marriage equality, finally recognizing the rights of men and women to marry the people they love. We enacted criminal justice reforms to break down laws that too often target people of color and led the country in expanding voting rights as other states weakened them.
"Collaborating with leaders in the retail, hospitality, manufacturing, health care and other industries, we built a partnership with job creators to encourage economic development and address crises in our unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation systems. We also expanded opportunities in the tourism and film industry, created the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority that reinvented McCormick Place and Navy Pier, and established the Illinois Sports Facility Authority that kept the White Sox in Chicago.
"When were confronted with the Rauner administration and the interests of the wealthy, who sought to weaken unions and the labor movement in Illinois, we stood up for working people. Rauner went on to plunge our state into a budget crisis, nearly bankrupting social service agencies, eliminating funding for higher education, and racking up billions of dollars in state debt in the process. House Democrats stood as the last line of defense to protect our state from collapse.
"Under my leadership, we increased transparency of state and local government by creating the Freedom of Information Act and protecting it from attempts to water it down, impeached Rod Blagojevich and repeatedly strengthened the state’s ethics and campaign finance laws."
"It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois. The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois."
"My achievements would not have been possible without the hard work and commitment of many members of my staff through the years. I thank them for their efforts on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus and the people of Illinois. I also want to thank the many volunteers and supporters who worked on behalf of the residents of the 22nd District. It is with the collective support of many that we have made Illinois a bastion of Democratic values.
"I leave office at peace with my decision and proud of the many contributions I’ve made to the state of Illinois, and I do so knowing I’ve made a difference."