Madigan's leadership in jeopardy as more House Democrats say he doesn't have their votes

  • Speaker Michael Madigan defied those calling for his ouster Thursday as a federal corruption probe widens with new indictments this week. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the speaker must face the public and answer questions.

    Speaker Michael Madigan defied those calling for his ouster Thursday as a federal corruption probe widens with new indictments this week. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the speaker must face the public and answer questions. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/19/2020 9:11 PM

Michael Madigan's 35-year tenure as speaker of the Illinois House could be in jeopardy as some Democratic lawmakers predicted Thursday he won't have the votes needed to keep the leadership role in the face of a widening federal corruption investigation.

The Chicagoan, one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state, faces growing defections from House Democrats who say they won't vote for Madigan for speaker when the legislature reconvenes in January.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also sharpened his criticism of the fellow Democrat.

"If Speaker Madigan wants to continue in a position of enormous public trust with such an enormous ethical cloud hanging over his head, then he has to -- at the very least -- be willing to stand in front of the press and the people and answer every last question," Pritkzer said unprompted at a COVID-19 briefing Thursday. "Written statements and dodged investigatory hearings are not going to cut it.

"If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker. The pay to play, quid pro quo situations outlined in these indictments ... are unspeakably wrong."

Madigan said he has done nothing wrong.

"Some individuals have spent millions of dollars and worked diligently to establish a false narrative that I am corrupt and unethical," he said in a statement. "The truth is that I have never engaged in any inappropriate or criminal conduct."

A total of 16 House Democrats have publicly said they don't support Madigan, and some lawmakers say more will join, making reelection impossible. There will be 73 House Democrats in the legislature that convenes in January.

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Madigan "does not have 60 votes. I will not be voting for him, certainly," said Democratic state Rep. Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn, who sought Madigan's ouster in July.

Those ranks are growing, with Democratic Reps. Sam Yingling of Round Lake Beach and Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook saying Thursday they won't be supporting Madigan as speaker.

"We want to see our caucus go in a new direction with different leadership," they said in a joint statement.

In the latest prong of a spiraling bribery investigation casting a shadow over Illinois politics, prosecutors on Wednesday indicted former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore of Barrington, 62; Chicagoan John Hooker, 71, a former ComEd executive vice president and lobbyist; Chicagoan Jay Doherty, 67, a ComEd lobbyist and former City Club of Chicago head; and Democratic lobbyist and former lawmaker Michael McClain, 73, of Quincy, a one-time colleague of Madigan in the House.

The four were charged with bribery, bribery conspiracy and falsifying ComEd records in a scheme that first emerged in July "to corruptly influence and reward a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois," authorities said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Madigan responded that "the U.S. attorney's office has charged, but of course has not proven, that certain ComEd employees, consultants, and lobbyists allegedly conspired with one another in the hope of somehow influencing me in my official capacity. Let me be clear: if that attempt ever happened, it was never made known to me."

He also pulled Republicans who have called for his ouster into the mix.

"The energy legislation cited by the U.S. attorney's office had the broad support of Democratic and Republican members," Madigan said. He added that 2016 legislation favorable to ComEd "would not have moved but for the intense involvement of Rep. Durkin and former Gov. Rauner."

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement that the "news makes it abundantly clear that the Democratic Party of Illinois, chaired and controlled by Speaker Madigan, also known as Public Official A, is a corrupt organization that has run its course."

In a July 17 agreement with the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Illinois, ComEd admitted to bribery and colluding with "State Official A," identified as the speaker, to get laws enabling rate hikes passed in exchange for Madigan cronies getting jobs and contracts.

The new indictment states "the defendants undertook other efforts to influence and reward Public Official A, including causing ComEd to retain a particular outside law firm favored by Public Official A and to accept into ComEd's internship program a certain amount of students who resided in the Chicago ward associated with Public Official A.

"Pramaggiore and McClain also allegedly took steps to have an individual appointed to ComEd's board of directors at the request of Public Official A and McClain," prosecutors said.

Attorneys for Cotter, Pramaggiore and McClain denied any wrongdoing.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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