Like him or hate him, admire him or despise him, the decades-long reign of Mike Madigan as Illinois House Speaker demands an objective, captivating and honest appraisal.
Readers get more than that in veteran journalist Ray Long’s timely “The House that Madigan Built: The Record Run of Illinois’ Velvet Hammer.“ This is no run-of-the-mill biography that examines Madigan’s childhood, how he got along with his old man, any high school bullies who might have picked on skinny kid in a search for the seeds of his relentless, compulsive pursuit of power that earned him accolades or derision as America’s longest-serving legislative leader.
For Long, Madigan is what he is. The author captures the master in action, for good or bad, in a series of well-told stories of some of his more notable successes and failures–from keeping the White Sox in town to the Illinois Supreme Court striking down a pension reform law he brilliantly guided through the legislative process. The final chapter, like a play’s last act, describes the Velvet Hammer’s fall. (Madigan later was indicted on federal racketeering and bribery charges.)
Journalist Mary Wisniewski, in her review of the book in NewCityLit describes the telling as a Shakespearian play, in which the king is “brought down by his own hubris and changing times. But even cynical readers may be surprised to find themselves admiring him—for all his faults.” As complex as Shakespeare’s tragic kings.
Long is well up for the job. I’d describe him as an “old school” journalist, if that wouldn’t get him attacked for failing to hue to the given wisdom. He observed Madigan for four decades as a Springfield beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and other media outlets. His approach is fair, detailed, colorful, readable and heavily cited. Clearly, it’s what professional journalism used to be before it lost its way among the truth-tellers.
This should be a lesson for all Illinoisans. For those who are fed-up with the shenanigans. For those who are just curious about how someone can gather such power. And for those who wonder how Illinois got into such a mess.To subscribe to The Barbershop, type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.