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Wednesday, July 16, 2008 01:55 am

Friends and family

Madigan could find himself isolated without Chicago mayor’s clout

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Last year, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan was able to use his alliance with the House and Senate Republicans to thwart Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones at almost every turn.

Whether it was the budget, or the governor's health insurance expansion, or one of a multitude of other issues, Madigan and the Republicans were a solid team throughout the long overtime session.

This year, though, the Republicans have flipped on Madigan, allying with Blagojevich and Jones on the $34 billion capital construction package, funded by expanded casino gambling and by leasing the Illinois Lottery to a private company.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation between Madigan and Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson. Watson had come to the House floor to lobby Madigan, yet again, on the capital bill, which would dump tons of cash into roads, bridges, schools, and mass transit.

Nothing doing, Madigan said.

"I don't know how anyone could ever trust that guy," he said of Blagojevich.

Watson and House Republican Leader Tom Cross continued to stick with Blagojevich despite Madigan's argument that the governor will eventually double-cross them.

Right now, the only powerful political ally Madigan has left is Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Daley has turned thumbs down on the capital package because the price the city would have to pay for a casino license is way higher than what Daley agreed to and the governor inserted language giving himself control of all Chicago school-construction projects against Daley's wishes.

Madigan is under intense pressure from his allies in organized labor and from many of his fellow Democrats to approve the capital bill, but he has refused to budge — and, as long as Daley is still not satisfied with the proposal, Madigan has more than enough political protection.

Meanwhile, some of my best inside sources confirm that Madigan's daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, is now leaning far more toward running for governor than she has in the past.

All of the above is why the semipublic mulling of a 2010 gubernatorial bid by Daley's brother Bill is so interesting to me. Bill Daley is testing the waters and gauging his support.

Speaker Madigan and Mayor Daley have argued and even split in the past, but the two men go way back, and it's practically impossible to break them apart for long. Madigan views Richard J. Daley, the mayor's father, as his second dad. Madigan and Daley are more than just political allies; they are almost like brothers. That means they occasionally fight each other hard but usually end up on the same side.

However, Bill Daley is a "real" mayoral brother. He's an official member of the ruling family, not an unofficial member like Madigan.

What I'm trying to say here is that Speaker Madigan is facing a quite touchy situation. The possibility that the brother of Madigan's only remaining ally in this fight to the political death with Blagojevich might end up on the opposite side of a primary race with his daughter, or even that he will continue openly mulling the decision for months, could very well complicate the speaker's near future.

Now, most believe that some sort of arrangement will be worked out, but things could easily become complicated with a family situation like this. A few kind words from Mayor Daley about the capital plan, for instance, would send ripples throughout the state's political establishment and seriously undercut Speaker Madigan's position and possibly his daughter's.

It can't be said enough that Madigan cannot afford to lose Mayor Daley right now, just as Blagojevich can't afford to lose his most powerful ally, Senate President Jones. Without Daley, Madigan is friendless in his war with Blagojevich. Without Jones, Blagojevich is in the same friendless position in his war with Madigan.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily
political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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