Confronting Madigan’s culture of intimidation

Since 1983 with the exception of two years, Michael Madigan has held the title of Illinois House speaker. As his influence grew, so did his ability to ply silence and loyalty from his Democratic members. Rarely do they publicly challenge him, and when they do, there can be a price.

See Corruption expert: Claims against Madigan warrant investigation at Illinois capitol after Mr. Madigan demanded $56,000.00 from Rep. Drury for help with legislation.

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The latest insurgent is Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who worked for now-Senate President John Cullerton and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office before being appointed to her North Side seat in 2011. Last week, Cassidy resigned from her part-time job working on criminal justice projects for the Cook County sheriff’s office; she claims Madigan’s emissaries pushed her out. She is unopposed for re-election to her House seat in November.

Cassidy, who has demonstrated independence from Madigan in recent years, in February criticized his handling of sexual harassment and bullying complaints within his political and statehouse offices. Cassidy argued publicly that those complaints should be investigated by an independent entity, not one with ties to the speaker. Days later, she says, Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes called the sheriff’s office and inquired about her employment status there. Told about the call, Cassidy interpreted it as a warning.

A second “occurrence,” she says, happened more recently. The sheriff’s office sought legislation in Springfield to deal with lewd conduct by inmates at the Cook County Jail. The bill put Cassidy at odds with her part-time employer, Sheriff Tom Dart. She didn’t support it. According to Cassidy, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, suggested she should expect to be fired for opposing her boss’ legislation. Cassidy’s former boss at the sheriff’s office says Rita made a similar point during a conversation about the bill’s lack of progress.

Rita is a loyal Madigan soldier. Cassidy interpreted the message as another warning to keep her mouth shut. She says she resigned from her side job because she anticipated a fight and didn’t want to detract from the sheriff’s work on criminal justice reform.

It would be reasonable to conclude that Cassidy resigned because her work for the sheriff’s office presented a conflict of interest with her work as a lawmaker — she found she couldn’t do one job without compromising the other. But why did Madigan’s chief of staff and a key ally in the House take such a keen interest in her part-time gig?

Madigan has denied any retaliation and on Tuesday asked the legislature’s inspector general to investigate. “Myself and my staff will cooperate with any investigation into this matter,” he wrote.

Good. We’ll be watching closely. The claims and counterclaims among all sides this week prompt questions that we hope the inspector general can explain.

Why did Mapes inquire about Cassidy’s job in the first place? Even if Mapes called the sheriff’s office for a discussion about several issues, his questions about Cassidy’s employment status, days after she criticized the speaker publicly, raised a red flag.

Was Rita’s conversation with Cassidy another nudge from Madigan to shut up and get in line?

Why was Cassidy working for the sheriff anyway? While many lawmakers have jobs outside the legislature, Cassidy set herself up for a potential conflict by accepting the position, especially given she is vice chair of a House judiciary committee where Dart’s bills likely would be heard.

Shouldn’t lawmakers be prohibited from holding outside jobs that create blatant conflicts of interest?

And if Cassidy wanted to stand her ground against allegations of intimidation, why did she resign?

All of these questions we expect the inspector general to explore.

We simply don’t know enough to draw conclusions about the events that unfolded. But we do know this: A lawmaker who spoke out about the need for an independent investigation into Madigan’s political and statehouse operations is out of a job. She has no doubt that’s because she confronted the speaker’s notorious culture of intimidation. Let’s see what the IG says.