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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007 01:02 am

Collateral damage?

Madigan’s livid after aide’s wife gets the boot

Untitled Document In a move that has probably fatally poisoned an already supertoxic Illinois Statehouse atmosphere, the wife of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff, Tim Mapes, was fired from her state job.
The firing came on the day after all four legislative leaders met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the first time in months. The meeting was arranged by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and was specifically designed to persuade the five men to set aside their personal and political differences and work together on solving the state’s numerous problems. The Democrats, who control all of state government, have been fighting like cats and dogs this year, and just about nothing is getting resolved. Madigan left that meeting early, saying that he had another engagement, but all of the leaders, including Madigan, described the talks as positive and the governor was quoted as saying it was one of the best meetings of the year. Apparently peace on Earth and goodwill toward men lasted less than 24 hours. Bronwyn Rains worked for the state on contract for 24 years. Rains is a child psychologist whose contract was renewed July 1. She was not a political appointee and had begun working for the state before she and Mapes were married. Her current contract with the Department of Human Services, according to her husband, involved rating eligibility of applicants for Social Security disability payments. Mapes, Madigan, and the rest of his top staff had managed to keep the firing a secret for days, but it spilled out last week after Madigan met with Cross and Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson. The two Republicans asked for the sitdown and once again tried to smooth things over between Madigan and his fellow Democrats so that they could move forward with a much-needed multibillion-dollar capital-projects plan. The Republicans were reportedly stunned into silence when Madigan told them what had happened with Mapes. This isn’t the first time that Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, have gone after a House Democrat’s relative. They fired the uncle of Rep. John D’Amico from his state job after D’Amico strayed from the Blagojevich playbook. The brother of the House Democrats’ “budgeteer,” Rep. Gary Hannig, was let go after his contract expired. Rep. Eddie Acevedo’s brother was dismissed and the brother of Rep. Careen Gordon was recently demoted.
And the carnage hasn’t been limited to the governor’s office. Several months ago, Senate President Emil Jones reportedly persuaded utility giant ComEd to fire a bunch of contract lobbyists with close ties to Madigan. But taking action like this against the wife of Madigan’s most trusted aide is wholly unprecedented at the Statehouse. Not only is she Mapes’ wife; she’s also the political version of a noncombatant. The political honor code dictates that family members are not to be messed with. After trying three times to explain the firing, the Department of Human Services finally claimed that the federal government made them do it. But the DHS’s story is so full of mysterious holes, the timing of the dismissal is so questionable, and the governor’s office has told so many lies that even if this one is true nobody will ever believe it. Plus, any explanation the governor’s office provides, no matter how legitimate it may sound, will simply not be trusted in Room 300 — Madigan’s suite of Statehouse offices. Madigan’s press spokesman labeled the administration’s explanation “an absolute lie,” which was not unexpected. Nobody with real power trusts anybody else with real power in Springfield these days.
And that, not the DHS response, is the most important aspect of this story. The three Democratic leaders (Madigan, Blagojevich, and Jones) believe that they are engaged in a fight to the political death, so they’re always on the lookout for tiny slights — and this thing is way beyond tiny. It probably doesn’t help matters that some of the governor’s top guys have been heard chuckling and bragging to intimates about the firing. Madigan, contacted after the story leaked, did not want to speak about the situation on the record, but the man was angrier and more thoroughly disgusted than I have ever seen him. If you think that the Madigan-Blagojevich fight was bad before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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