Last week, someone actually asked House Speaker Michael Madigan a question about how he plays politics. Madigan didn’t answer, of course, but it was nice to see him confronted.
The issue was a judicial race on Madigan’s native Southwest Side. Until recently, there were five candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 3rd Judicial Subcircuit, including the incumbent, Tom Carroll, who was appointed to the seat last year. Carroll has his own share of clout. His father was a precinct captain for Ald. Ed Burke, whose wife, Anne Burke, sits on the Supreme Court, which made the appointment.
But Carroll doesn’t have as much clout as another candidate, Dan Degnan. Degnan’s father, Tim Degnan, was Mayor Richard M. Daley’s patronage chief. Suddenly, all four of Degnan’s rivals, including Carroll, dropped out of the race.
According to several sources, Judge Carroll got a message of his own: It's not your turn anymore.
Now, Daniel R. Degnan is running unopposed as a Democrat in the 3rd Judicial Subcircuit. In practical terms, that means he'll have a job for life, with a six-figure salary and no heavy lifting and all those holidays off with pay.
Still, inserting a judge with little legal experience is quite bold, even for a guy like Mike Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House and absolute lord of the Midwestern state now known as Madiganistan. When it comes to making judges, all robes begin with Madigan, especially in his Southwest Side stronghold.
Madigan rarely bothers to discuss with the public how he does the public’s business. But earlier this week, he gave a speech to an Elmhurst College class taught by former House Speaker Lee Daniels. Afterwards, he answered questions from reporters.
“Campaign question,” asked Abdon M. Pallasch of the Sun-Times. “What qualities do you see in Dan Degnan that would make him a good judge? And what steps, if any, did you take to convince Judge Carroll or any of the other candidates to get out of the race to give Degnan a clear shot?”
“There’s a question that relates to state government,” Madigan said, smiling.
“It’s a campaign question,” Pallasch said.
Madigan looked at the other reporters.
“How about another question?” Madigan asked.
We know what Madigan did to fix this race for a power broker’s little boy. And he knows we know. But he also knows that do-gooder journalists have been complaining about Machine politicians forever, and he has outlasted all of them. So he allowed himself a little smile that said he’d won, and it didn’t matter what anyone thought about it. Then he moved on to the next question.
Anyone who is still upset by Madigan’s refusal to answer -- or about the actions of Chicago politicians in general -- needs to memorize the poem “Be Angry At The Sun,” by Robinson Jeffers. It begins:
That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.
Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you.
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