Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2002
by: Thomas Roeser
A strange thing is happening in Illinois politics. Reporters are searching to corroborate a possible scandal involving the Democratic nominee for governor based on a cryptic but never renounced allegation by the chairman of the Democratic Party, the speaker of the House, Michael Madigan.
Here’s how the scandal search started. In mid-August, when some Republicans were criticizing their leaders for a series of improprieties, allegations were made that the Democrats were sublimely uncritical of their leader.
That’s when Rep. Rod Blagojevich responded by declaring that the $300,000 Madigan included in the state budget for the International Livestock Exposition at Springfield was a “misplace priority” and a “product of arrogance.”
This charge, it turns out, could probably be the worst mistake Blagojevich has made in his young political career.
Madigan portrayed the livestock show as a financial blessing that Springfield Mayor Karen Hasara had sought. He distributed to reporters copies of the solicitation letter he received from Hasara on May 8. He defended himself as “not an arrogant person.”
He added, “Clearly, I occupy a position where I could be arrogant if I wanted to be, but strive not to be.”
He added that the difference of opinion between Blagojevich and himself on the livestock show was legitimate. Then the most powerful Democrat in Illinois inflamed the condition of Illinois politics with four simple sentences:
“Now,” Madigan said, “I don’t plan to get into any criticism of Blagojevich. I could do that. I could talk about his indiscretions. But I’m not going to do that because I believe in solidarity within the political party.”
The press perked up its ears at “indiscretions.” But Madigan declined to elaborate on what he meant by “indiscretions.”
The question is: Would the House speaker baselessly charge Blagojevich with improprieties for no reason? Hardly. The speaker is a man who practices economy and exactitude in his utterances.
Gary MacDougal, the newly elected state Republican chairman, has quite properly asked what Blagojevich indiscretions Madigan had in mind. There has been no answer.
As for Blagojevich, he claims he has no idea. He quickly toned down his allegation.
“I didn’t say he was arrogant,” the young congressman said. “What I said was that misplaced priority (the money for the livestock show) was a product of arrogance. There’s a difference,” he said, adding that “if I were governor, I’d veto that.” The press has launched a king of probe into Blagojevich to determine what, if anything, Madigan had in mind. Was it merely the juvenile smoking of marijuana, during which, Blagojevich insisted, he had not inhaled?
MacDougal continues to ask. For the GOP, this articulate businessman who once considered the governorship is a godsend. Before him, with few exceptions, state chairmen merely filled a sear at a State Central Committee meeting.
Now the GOP has a keen debater, first-rate fund-raiser and party strategist rolled up into one. MacDougal, who was born in Chicago, made a fortune as an entrepreneur, served as assistant to Jim Baker in George Bush Sr.’s victorious 1988 campaign, is an expert on welfare reform and is an author. Recently, one media commentator said that MacDougal was acting improperly by keeping the issue of “indiscretion” alive.
On my WLS radio talk show last Sunday, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown labored intensively to dismiss the allegation. But Brown, brilliant as he is, cannot bring the issue to rest.
But it all could end. And it will end, if and when Madigan tells us what he meant by Blagojevich’s indiscretions.
Until then, the speaker’s mystifying words remain the single most intriguing issue of the campaign, and Illinois media will continue investigating the public and private life of the Democratic nominee. Blagojevich has no one to blame but Madigan. And, of course, himself.
Conservative businessman Gary E. MacDougal was elected unanimously Friday as the state's new Republican chairman, charged with unifying disparate elements within the party, raising badly needed funds and helping it overcome a scandal-induced chaos.