Ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to resign seat

John O'Connor
Associated Press

Springfield, Ill. – Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who virtually set Illinois’ political agenda as House speaker for four decades before his ouster last month, announced Thursday that he is resigning his seat in the Legislature.

Madigan, the longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history, was tarnished by a federal investigation of Statehouse bribery announced last summer that implicated him. He has not been charged with wrongdoing and maintains his innocence. But he lost his bid for a 19th term as speaker to Hillside Democrat Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

In this Jan. 8, 2021, file photo, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan appears on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives.

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In a statement Thursday, Madigan, 78, said he was resigning as state representative at the end of the month. He didn’t say explicitly why he was resigning the post he has held for 50 years, but blamed a whispering campaign for the loss of trust in him.

“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.”

Welch – previously a Madigan loyalist chosen to head an investigative committee into Madigan’s activities, which he abruptly concluded over the howls of Republicans who called for it –- issued a statement Thursday touting Madigan’s accomplishments in office.

“Under him, we’ve had strong, sustained Democratic leadership in Springfield,” said Welch. “We legalized same-sex marriage, abolished the death penalty and solidified abortion rights. Illinois also became the first state in the Midwest to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

Last summer, Madigan was identified in a Justice Department investigation as the beneficiary of a yearslong bribery venture involving ComEd. It has thus far yielded a $200 million fine on the utility giant, a ComEd executive’s guilty plea and indictments of four others, including Madigan’s closest confidante.

Shortly after the Justice Department announced the deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd in July, legislators began backpedaling from Madigan, saying they could not support him. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other prominent Illinois Democrats blamed him for Election Day losses and sought his ouster as state Democratic Party Chairman.

But Madigan’s leadership had been questioned even before the ComEd allegations surfaced. The scrutiny included his handling of sexual harassment allegations and a scathing report he commissioned that detailed the environment of bullying and intimidation in the speaker’s office under his chief of staff of 25 years.

Democratic committee members from Madigan’s 13th Ward 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.

As chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, a post he added to his resume in 1998, he was instrumental in turning Illinois a solid Democratic blue from the bellwether it had been for much of the 20th century. Suburban collar counties around Chicago went from Republican strongholds to competitive playing fields. After the 1990 census, Republicans won the right to draw legislative district maps, and while the GOP kept a grip on the Senate for the decade, Madigan relinquished his majority only once, from 1995 to 1997.

A remnant of the old-style Chicago machine politics honed by his mentor, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, Madigan was known for his ability to provide jobs as a way to award political fealty. He had sometimes faced criticism when jobs he provided appeared ethically or legally questionable, but never faced any repercussions.