Mike Madigan has been in the news lately. He's the speaker of the Illinois House and head of the Illinois Democratic Party. It's alleged Metra's chairman was removed for failing to make a patronage appointment Madigan wanted. The basis of Madigan's power is his position as committeeman of Chicago's 13th Ward and patronage.
Patronage workers' jobs depend on getting out the vote, not how well they perform their official duties. The Chicago Machine's power depends on an exception they carved out for themselves from Illinois election law. In Cook County the lowest level of party official elected is the ward or township committeeman. Powerful committeemen can appoint patronage workers as precinct captains to work the precincts to ensure their re-election.
In all of Illinois except Cook County, party officials are elected democratically (small "d"). Anyone can get on the ballot to be elected as precinct committeeman by getting 10 signatures on a nominating petition. Precinct committeemen are elected in the gubernatorial primary every four years. In the month following the election, the precinct committeemen get together and select the ward or township committeeman as well as the County Chairman for their party.
I recommend that the law be changed to allow Cook County voters to elect precinct committeeman. Imagine if Madigan had to ask precinct committeemen what they wanted him to do instead of telling precinct captains what they must do? That would be the end of the Chicago machine.
At a meeting a couple of years ago I asked Gov. Pat Quinn what he thought of my idea. He said it was a good idea. I asked him if I could quote him on that and he said I could. He's always been a good government political maverick. I doubt that Bill Daley would go along with that idea.
R. Kent Kirkwood
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