CHICAGO (CBS) — With Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan facing growing calls from his own ranks to give up his leadership post in light of the sweeping ComEd bribery scandal, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday suggested the powerful Southwest Side Democrat can’t continue to serve with a cloud hanging over him, but stopped short of demanding his resignation.
A former federal prosecutor herself, Lightfoot said she has been watching “with great interest” as the feds first charged ComEd itself with a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to influence Madigan, and then last month announced an indictment against longtime Madigan ally Michael McClain, as well as three former ComEd executives and lobbyists.
The ComEd scandal has prompted 19 Illinois House Democrats to announce they won’t be voting for Madigan as speaker when the new Illinois General Assembly is sworn in next month. Madigan needs at least 60 votes to keep his leadership position, and Democrats are expected to hold 73 seats, so if the lawmakers who’ve said they won’t support him hold firm, he’d be six votes shy of winning another term as speaker.
Asked if Madigan should resign as speaker, Lightfoot did not directly answer, saying she would have “more to say about this at another time,” but said it’s clear Madigan currently doesn’t have the votes to keep his seat.
However, she said voters need to be able to trust the integrity of their elected officials in order for democracy to work, values she said she’s held since long before she became mayor.
“Our democracy depends upon the people believing in leadership, the people believing that the leaders stand for them, that we are working hard every single day on behalf of the people and not on behalf of ourselves. That is the only way that our democracy will survive and flourish, is if people have confidence in the people they elected to do the right thing for them,” she said. “That doesn’t happen when there is a cloud that hangs. That doesn’t happen when people feel like elected officials have been completely compromised, and have an agenda that has nothing to do with doing the people’s business.”
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Last month, Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd executive and lobbyist John Hooker, and former lobbyist Jay Doherty were charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records.
The indictment virtually mirrored the case laid out against ComEd itself earlier this year, accusing the company of a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Madigan’s favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd’s rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker’s associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
Madigan himself has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing. Although he does not have the votes he needs to win another term as speaker, Madigan has vowed to run again in January, saying he still has “support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members.”
Last month’s indictment accuses McClain, Pramaggiore, Hooker, and Doherty of using their influence to reward “Public Official A” – not specified by name as Madigan but referred to in the indictment as Speaker of the Illinois House – for about eight years beginning in 2011. McClain is one of Madigan’s closest longtime confidants.
The indictment claims the four defendants conspired to influence and reward the speaker by arranging for jobs and contracts for his political allies and workers. The jobs sometimes involved little or no work, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
The defendants are also accused of creating false contracts, invoices, and other records to disguise some of the payments and get around ComEd internal controls, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
Further, the defendants are accused of making other efforts to try to influence Madigan, including having ComEd retain a law firm that was favored by the speaker, and accepting a certain number of students from the official’s Chicago aldermanic ward into the ComEd internship program, prosecutors said.
Pramaggiore and McClain are also accused of working to have someone appointed to the ComEd Board of Directors at the request of the speaker and McClain.
Another former ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme in September. Madigan was specifically named in that case as the one whose support Marquez and other ComEd executives sought for legislation that would benefit ComEd.
Marquez, who is cooperating with the federal investigation of ComEd’s lobbying practices, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison, but federal prosecutors said they will recommend a sentence of probation only if he fully cooperates.
According to court documents, Marquez helped direct a $37,500 payment to an unnamed company, “a substantial portion of which was intended for associates of [Madigan].”
ComEd has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the feds, and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine, enact a number of reforms, and cooperate with investigators in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges in 2023 if ComEd lives up to its obligations.
Lightfoot said it’s hard enough to serve as an elected official at any time, in particular now when leaders must deal “crisis after crisis after crisis” — including the pandemic, growing civil unrest over police killings of unarmed African Americans, and more.
“You can’t do that if you don’t have legitimacy of the people that elected you in the first place,” Lightfoot said. “That’s not just a statement about Mike Madigan, that’s a statement about all of us. In this time in our state, and our city, and our county, we all need to step up and put people first.”