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Mike Madigan, Democratic Party of Illinois Chairman, MIA in Scott Lee Cohen debacle

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The debacle of Democrats nominating pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen for lieutenant governor -- a candidate so politically toxic he could bring down the Democratic ticket in November -- highlights the awful job House Speaker Michael J. Madigan is doing as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Unlike every other state party chairman in the nation, Madigan refuses to run a viable statewide political organization.

With Democrats now facing uphill battles to elect Gov. Quinn and Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, they head into the nine-month general election campaign without a real, working statewide party. The Illinois Republican Party has a very engaging, energized chairman, Pat Brady. Illinois Democrats have Madigan, who shows little interest in doing the job of state party chairman, including mapping strategy to win in November.

Madigan has used the position mainly to re-elect his state House members and to help daughter Lisa Madigan when she first ran for attorney general. He is up for re-election as Democratic Party of Illinois chairman in April.

Every Democratic activist I've been talking to the last few days says it is time for Madigan to step up or step out.

I'm told that Cohen is contemplating dropping out but needs some time and a face-saving way to quit the ticket, where by Illinois law he is Quinn's automatic running mate. A political neophyte, Cohen did not realize, I'm told, that when his entire background came out -- his anabolic steroid abuse and allegations of being a deadbeat dad, attempting to force his then-wife to have sex and holding a knife to the throat of his live-in girlfriend, a prostitute -- he would be unelectable in November.

Now, there is a lot of blame to go around for Cohen -- with his scandalized background -- winning Tuesday's six-way Democratic lieutenant governor primary. Except for my colleague, Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, the stretched-thin Chicago media never got more stories in the papers about Cohen's flaws and his potential -- by spending his own millions of dollars -- for winning the primary.

But blaming the press does not excuse Madigan. Most party chairmen would have started caring about the viability of the top of the statewide Democratic ticket -- no matter if Quinn or Comptroller Dan Hynes were to be the eventual nominee -- once Cohen started pouring huge sums of his own money into his race. Cohen loaned his campaign $300,000 on Dec. 14, $200,000 on Dec. 28, $40,000 on Jan. 4, $300,000 on Jan. 11, $200,000 on Jan. 16, $200,000 on Jan. 25 and $55,098 on Jan. 29. Cohen's ads -- with, ironically, a very effective jobs message -- were all over television, while his poorly funded rivals were invisible.

The Democratic Party of Illinois did not make an endorsement in the lieutenant governor race. Madigan gave his personal endorsement to state Rep. Arthur Turner (Chicago). But Madigan did not do much to assist Turner, who had only $50,000 to spend on ads. Two of Turner's spots were probably too subtle anyway; they ended with a warning about how a "millionaire pawnbroker [is] trying to buy this election."

The Cohen episode demonstrates that Illinois Democrats could use a real state party leader. Even if Madigan did not want the party to endorse anyone, usually a chairman would at least try to make sure the least-electable contender does not get the nomination.

"In any other state, campaigns or interested parties would have gone to the state party chair and aired their concerns about Scott Lee Cohen's candidacy," said Kitty Kurth, a Chicago-based Democratic consultant. "The state party chair could have asked Cohen to step down for the good of the party. If Cohen said no, then the party chair could have stood up in the press and said to voters, 'Vote for any Democrat, but not this one.' "

Illinois Democrats have not had an activist party chairman since Gary LaPaille, who served between 1990 and 1998. During LaPaille's tenure, he was a statewide voice for Democrats on a state and national level, and the state party was involved in coordinated campaigns, voter registration drives and had an office in Chicago accessible to the public.

That has not been done under Madigan, as other Democratic entities have stepped into the void. Sen. Dick Durbin has played a major role in statewide Democratic organizing for years; so have the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen organization, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Organizing for America, the former Obama political organization now run out of the Democratic National Committee.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said criticisms of Madigan for being hands-off were "ironic" since Madigan is sometimes accused of being "heavy-handed." I asked Brown going forward what Madigan's role would be in dealing with the Cohen situation. On Thursday, Madigan agreed with Quinn that Cohen should step aside. Brown said he did not know if "Chairman Madigan" would be doing more than that.

10 Comments

In the spirit of due diligence as a voter, I would like to ask the political media to compile and publish a list of all current elected officials and candidates who: 1) have ever been divorced, 2) who have ever been arrested for anything, regardless of the outcomes. Also include everything about any time they have had a problem of any sort with the IRS, again, regardless of the outcomes. Please list the nature and timing of each arrest and interview - and the outcomes to all. Please locate and publish every court document in everyone of their divorces or other court appearances. As a follow-up, please interview all of the their spouses, ex-spouses and ex-girlfriends.

This is the standard and precedent your political reporting profession has just set for us - and I plan to hold you to it. As an dedicated and deeply concerned Illinois voter, I want to know all of this about every candidate, before I will vote for any of them from now on - because that is what you have convinced me matters in Illinois politics in 2010. I look forward to you doing your jobs, for a change.

Good point Lynn. This explains also why the party is so weak everywhere except for it's strongholds. There should be a statewide Dem party infrastructure.

Also, Quinn and Hynes should have stood up and said the same thing: vote for anyone but Cohen.

Finally, I think it moronic that they are calling for him to resign as if he does not, the voters have now been told that he's poison. They are shooting themselves in the foot by calling on him to resign because if he doesn't, then what?

You've now told the electorate he's unacceptable.

Mike Madigan was simply too busy interfering in primary races where his legislative lap dogs, i.e., Dan Burke, were in danger of losing to people whose only talents were that they attracted popular support, and do not beat their wives.

In most states, the idea that a party chair would also head the legislature and whose main job is to funnel lobbyists' contributions to candidates without bothering with full disclosure would be anathma. But not here. And not with Mike.

Scott Cohen needs to resign, and so does Madigan.

Brave and incredible column, Lynn Sweet, thank you. Scott Lee Cohen is just a symptom of the much more serious disease within the Democratic Party of Illinois that someone like him could win their primary in the first place. I hope Democratic activists are finally seeing the problems and do something about it for their own good and the good of what they believe in.

Cohen winning the primary shows plain as day that Michael Madigan as Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois is a cancer of incompetence (to borrow from his Blago impeachment memo) for not making sure a basic background check on a Democrat Lt Gov candidate spending millions and polling well. Keep on this as much as they are keeping on Scott Lee Cohen and don't let Madigan get away with two sentence snark responses from Steve Brown (partly behind bringing Palin to central IL).

If this isn't enough to run people to Rich Whitney and the Green Party, it should be enough for them to demand change at the top of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

So Mike Madigan takes all the credit but he spreads the blame again. Classic. It's all about Mike Madigan. Who else has dwelt in the cesspool of Illinois politics longer and done as well? There is no Democratic Party in Illinois politics. We've seen the systematic intentional disintegration of party structure by the very people that have bled it dry for a generation. Why would Madigan build an organization that was capable of challenging his own daughter? Self interest and control is far more important than the electorate. Under Mike Madigan's leadership the state is bankrupt. He's had his way with the house for 10 years, results? How do you like him now? His minions are happy with the crumbs that fall from the masters table but do they know that the master has sold them out by not funding the public pensions? The same is true for Hynes (farewell Danny boy, don't let the door....), Lipinski (Congressman Dan), Joyce (Kevin), Stroger (Toddler).... Gimme a break. How many hard working loyal democrats do you think are thrown under the bus to allow these country club snobs to steal the spotlight? Daley is the embodiment of the second generation sons and daughters of privilege. How is that working for the taxpayers? He's emasculated any dissent and we're left with man with no ability to deal with the problems he's created by having everything the way he wanted it for a generation. The city that works ain't workin so good. All of them bleed the democratic party for their own needs and use it as a means to preserve their own fiefdoms. I have no problem with Cohen. Cohen vs. Topinka? Gimme Cohen! As far as I'm concerned, he fits right in with this crowd. No shame.

These people just want to sell papers and don't care what the facts are. Scott Lee Cohen put Millions of his own money during hard economic times. If he was so bad he could of bought cheap Realestate and made millions with what he invested. Why spend 2 Million plus for a job that pays 100 Thousand a year. But remember while he was spending 2 Million he was geting people jobs. He comes forward at the begining and puts his dirty laundry on the table. This man did not cover up any facts about his life.

Republicans your 15 minutes are up. His name is Scott Lee Cohen and he is the LT Governor.

Unless a crime has been committed and a person has been prosecuted Politian's should be excluded from information being brought to the Public as some times Politian's are engaged in Prosecuting Criminals but that information cannot be disclosed at the time the Scandals are released and subsequently ruins a person's career.

Madigan should be speaking out daily and very strongly against Cohen. And if Madigan had done his job months ago getting this candidate investigated, the voters of this State wouldn't have voted for him in the primary. Cohen is clearly unelectable and can take down the entire Democratic ticket in November. The voters had no way of knowing all this dirt that is coming out on Cohen these last few days. All of the Democratic Chairmen of each county should also be speaking publicly that Cohen should step down. Madigan should ask himself if he wants the Republicans to win in November. If he does, then he should remain silent. If he wants the Democrats to win, he better open his mouth aagainst this women abusing, tax cheating lowlife. If Madigan can't do that, he shouldn't be party chairman.

You are so correct about Madigan. He should have been speaking out about Cohen, calling for him to drop out of the race. However, this calls attention to Madigan's utterly inept, actually, his NON-handling of the background check process of candidates. Now he has a woman abusing, tax cheating low class pawnbroker on his hands who also doesn't pay child support and thinks it's okay to bring his girlfriends for sex into the house where his children and wife are. There are plenty of things he has been doing which are illegal, such as the steroid use, and he should be in jail. Maybe Madigan can think of that angle to force him to resign. Cohen will bring down the entire ticket if he doesn't resign. Thank you, Mikey, for another disgraceful mistake which could have been avoided if you knew how to run things. And thank you Ms. Sweet, for laying the blame where it belongs, right at Mikey's shoes.

Funny when it's all said and done that Madigan was one who got Cohen to drop out.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 6, 2010 2:36 PM.

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