Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Michael Madigan's Lincoln Library Plot Raises Patronage Concerns

The Illinois Speaker introduces a bill to wrest control of the tourist spot from the Historic Preservation Agency

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While you were at a picnic this Memorial Day weekend, Michael Madigan was busy indoors, masterminding a patronage-fueled plot to transfer control of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from one agency to another.

What else would he be doing? 

On Monday, the Illinois Speaker pushed a proposal through the House Executive Committee that would shift oversight of the tourist hotspot from the state-run Historic Preservation Agency to a standalone firm. The measure, which passed 10-1, awaits a decision from the full chamber.

Given the greenlight from the House, Gov. Pat Quinn would have the power to appoint a board of directors; pending Senate approval, these appointees would then hand-pick the Lincoln library and museum's executive director. (The switch, according to the Tribune, could cost the state $2.4 million.)

Madigan submitted the legislation at the last second on Friday, one week before the General Assembly adjourns for the summer.

Addressing the Executive panel, Madigan argued that the Springfield-based institution "ought to be a free-standing entity operating on its own without being required to operate under jurisdiction of another agency."

Here's where things get tricky:  Eileen Mackevich, the museum's executive director, is a friend of Madigan, a relationship the Speaker does not dispute. Mackevich and Amy Martin, head of the Historic Preservation Agency, have butted heads over such issues as how to present a possible donation from former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III and Mackevich's pitch to put on an exhibit of Civil War-time music.

Mackevich denied that differences with Martin, her superior, led Madigan to file his library bill.

"I don’t think this is a personality clash," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. "If that’s what people are trying to say, that’s not so. I’m long in the tooth. I’m a person who’s been founder and president of the Chicago Humanities Council. I ran the National Bicentennial Commission. I’m willing to share of my knowledge and learning. I think what we’re talking about is different visions, not a personality clash. There’s a big difference."

Crickets.

Madigan, meanwhile, denied the museum would become a patronage sandbox for his political connections. Pressed on who he envisions at the helm, he responded: "There's an executive director there today."

More crickets.

See video of Madigan defending his museum bill on Monday:

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