Lightfoot leaves little doubt: Speaker Madigan must give up the gavel

She wouldn’t say it directly, but Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made clear on Thursday that Illinois Rep. Michael Madigan should step down as Illinois House Speaker. | AP file

“Our democracy depends upon the people believing … that the leaders stand for them,” the mayor said Thursday. “That doesn’t happen when people feel like elected officials have been completely compromised and have an agenda that has nothing to do with doing the peoples’ business.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn’t come right out and say it Thursday, but she left little doubt she believes it’s time for embattled Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to give up the gavel.
“Our democracy depends upon the people believing … that the leaders stand for them. That we are working hard every single day on behalf of the people and not on behalf of ourselves. That is the only way that our democracy will survive and flourish — if people have confidence in the people they elected to do the right thing for them,” the mayor said.
“That doesn’t happen when there is a cloud that hangs. That doesn’t happen when people feel like elected officials have been completely compromised and have an agenda that has nothing to do with doing the peoples’ business. That’s the wrong direction for any of us.”
Lightfoot said it’s hard to be an elected official and a leader during the best of times. It’s particularly difficult now “when we’re dealing with crisis after crisis after crisis.”
“We can’t do that if you don’t have legitimacy of the people that elected you in the first place. That’s not just a statement about Mike Madigan. That’s a statement about all of us,” she said.
The mayor is just the latest prominent Democrat to weigh in since federal prosecutors charged four people in an alleged long-term bribery scheme designed to curry favor with Madigan to win his support for legislation benefitting Commonwealth Edison.
In the Illinois House, 19 Democrats — including a member of the Democratic leadership team — have said they will not vote for Madigan when a new speaker is chosen is January.
That puts Madigan well short of the 60 votes he needs to keep the job he has held for nearly 40 years.
Until Thursday, Lightfoot had been conspicuously silent in the political debate swirling around Illinois’ most powerful Democrat.
She has said Madigan should step down if charges made in a deferred prosecution agreement that required ComEd to pay a $200 million fine are proven to be true. But she has been unwilling to go any further.
Lightfoot apparently was unwilling to offend Madigan, who still has the power to derail her ambitious legislative agenda in Springfield — but that was before a bombshell federal indictment last month plunged deeper into Madigan’s once impervious inner circle.
Former lawmaker-turned-Commonwealth Edison lobbyist Michael McClain, one of the speaker’s closest confidants, as well as former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and former ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Jay Doherty, former president of the City Club of Chicago, all were accused of participating in the bribery scheme.
A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot said Thursday she has “read in great detail” last month’s indictment of McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker and Doherty. She’s been “watching with great interest” as the political ground beneath Madigan’s feet has started to crumble. She has also “watched with great interest the number of people who’ve been silent” and “haven’t stood up” against Madigan.
“I think the number of Democrats that have come out now numbers something like 19. From the math that’s been reported, he doesn’t have enough to become the next speaker,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot promised to have “more to say about this at another time,” but argued her “record on transparency in government” pre-dates her campaign for mayor on a promise to “Bring in the light.”
“I’ve lived these values for quite a long time,” she said.
Lightfoot was stuck in the single-digits in public opinion polls before the Nov. 29, 2018 raid by federal investigators who covered the glass doors of Ald. Edward Burke’s ward and City Hall offices with brown butcher paper.
After that and the Jan. 3, 2019 extortion charges against Burke, Lightfoot became the designated change agent in a change election.
Madigan has emphatically denied playing any role in the ComEd scheme, which is alleged to have involved doling out jobs and contracts to his allies and friends, some of whom did little or no work, and placing one of his allies on ComEd’s board of directors.
The speaker has argued that “helping people find jobs is not a crime.”

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