Madigan’s master plan seen in state rep races

In the 40-plus years that I’ve written this weekly analysis and opinion column on politics, I’ve never encountered an instance where the lead-up, the information gathering, is more column-worthy than the actual column. Now I have.

Call this a "pre-column," a column on the story of getting the story to write the column, and it clearly demonstrates how and why Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s "gag and spend" strategy maintains his iron grip on his Democratic majority and his stranglehold on Illinois government.

In the Northwest Side 40th Illinois House District, the incumbent is Jaime Andrade, age 40, a 17-year staffer for Alderman Dick Mell and at the time of his appointment in September of 2013 the Chicago City Council’s $90,000-a-year deputy sergeant at arms. Andrade replaced Deb Mell, Dick Mell’s daughter, who replaced her father as alderman. One headline at the time blared: "Mell’s aide replaces Mell who replaced Mell." So what else is new?

Andrade has four opponents in the March 18 Democratic primary. Aaron Goldstein, who was one of the defense attorneys in the federal corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich, who is Dick Mell’s son-in-law. In the House, occupying Blagojevich’s former seat, Deb Mell voted against his impeachment. Goldstein was "second chair" in the first Blagojevich trial, which was inconclusive, and "first chair" on the second trial, which was conclusive, getting Blagojevich a 14-year sentence. "I can do a lot with a little," Goldstein said, referring to his plans for Illinois government. In the Blagojevich trials he proved the old maxim that a guilty client cannot morph into a non-guilty client. The "Mell Clan" exhibits no appreciation for Goldstein’s failed efforts.

Also running is Nancy Schiavone, an attorney and the 35th Ward Democratic committeeman. Like Goldstein, her base is Logan Square. At a Feb. 19 fund-raiser for the 45th Ward Independent Democrats, a group run by Democratic Committeeman and Alderman John Arena, Jerry Morrison, the ubiquitous, outspoken and very influential political operative of the Service Employees International Union, told me that I’m "always wrong" on my predictions. Morrison bragged that the unions’ $300,000 cash infusion "elected" Arena in 2011 and said that Arena will be re-elected in 2015 with 70 percent of the vote, that 2011 30-vote loser John Garrido is a Tea Party adherent, and that Michelle Baert, who is positioning herself for an aldermanic run as the "45th Ward Mom," will "go nowhere."

Baert apparently took a Republican ballot in a prior primary. "She’s a Republican," Morrison said, and that apparently makes her toast.

Morrison also offered to bet me that union-friendly Democratic Governor Pat Quinn will beat union-averse Republican Bruce Rauner in the November election. "He’s unelectable," Morrison said. "Does that mean Quinn wins because he is the least unelectable or because the unions’ money will make Rauner the more unelectable?" I asked. Morrison laughed.

Morrison said that Schiavone will beat Andrade and that the SEIU and other unions will dump $250,000 into her campaign. Andrade voted for Madigan’s pension reform bill, which the unions find repugnant. They want the scalp of some Madigan minion, and Andrade’s is the most accessible. When I asked Schiavone whether the unions were going to buy the seat for her, she expressed incredulity. "That’s news to me," she said. Clearly, someone’s lying.

Also running are Mark Pasieka, a civil engineer, and Wendy Jo Harmston.

A column-creating process is relatively simple: Determine a topic. Gather facts, either from personal archives of newspaper clippings and texts or from sources available on the Internet. Call the subject(s) or source(s) and get quotes. Get a second opinion if needed. Then write the column. A piece of cake.

When Andrade was appointed in September, I talked with him before I wrote a column. "I’m always available," he said, and he gave me his cell phone number. I called Andrade’s legislative office on Feb. 18 to request an interview. That’s "political," the receptionist said. "The campaign office will call you."

The following day Craig Willert, who according to a filing with the Illinois State Board of Elections, is on the payroll of Madigan’s "Democratic Majority Fund," earning $1,163 bi-weekly, returned my call. Willert is running the Andrade campaign. "I need to interview Jaime," I said. "He can’t talk to you," Willert responded. "He’s too busy campaigning." "Not even for five minutes?" I replied. "He can’t be that busy."

"Put your questions in writing," ordered Willert. Not a chance. "Write down these questions," I ordered. "What is the theme of the Andrade campaign?" "How does Andrade differentiate himself from Schiavone and Goldstein?" "Does he vote like Madigan dictates " "What is his base?" "Give me a scenario as to how he wins." "I need answers by the weekend," I added.

The Andrade campaign immediately went into lock-down/shut-up mode, adhering to the precepts of the "Mike Madigan Academy of Political Success," wherein Democratic members are taught two enduring lessons: First, do what you’re told, all the time, every time. Second, you don’t have to explain, apologize or modify what you haven’t said, so keep your mouth shut, don’t talk to "unfriendlies" (meaning journalists like myself), and if necessary, adhere to the script and speak in generalities or platitudes at public forums.

Andrade graduated from Madigan’s academy summa cum laude. In just six months, he has "gone Springfield."

I called Willert at the campaign office once on Thursday and twice on Friday, getting voice mail. "Am I getting answers?" Rejection can be infuriating. So on Feb. 22 I called Andrade on his cell phone 13 times and Willert at the campaign office six times. Into voice mail. No response. They must be busy. I tried again on Sunday. Eight calls to Willert went into voice mail and nine calls to Andrade got a "mailbox full, cannot accept any message" voice-over.

I accepted the inevitable: Madigan’s flunkies are well trained. They don’t want to talk to me. Persistence is not rewarded.

Unlike Andrade, both Schiavone and Goldstein returned my calls. Here’s how the contest is unfolding: The 2013 year-end campaign contribution filings showed Andrade with $48,768 in cash on hand, to $61,518 for Schiavone and $16,687 for Goldstein. Schiavone had loaned her committee $86,500 since 2012.

Then Madigan’s magic materialized. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 20, Andrade got 17 $1,000-plus donations totaling $45,682, including $10,000 from Equality Illinois, the political action committee which supports gay rights, after he voted to allow same-sex marriage. He got $22,009 in in-kind funding from Madigan’s Illinois House Democratic Majority political action committee, including payroll, printing and postage for four mailings. He also got $1,500 from Madigan’s committee, which was paid to the Illinois Democratic Party, of which Madigan is the chairman, for "vote builder" lists, which are precinct-by-precinct breakouts of how people voted in past primaries.

That is gold. Illinois’ 2010 census population was 12,830,632, which means the 118 House districts have an average of 108,734 people. The 40th District has 68 precincts in eight wards and a voter registration of roughly 30,000 in about 35,000 households. In the 2012 primary, in which Deb Mell was unopposed, she received 4,011 votes.

The state Democratic Party has a computerized, downloadable, label-ready "voter file," culled from every county clerk, which pinpoints voters’ history. There are "hard D’s," households with at least one occupant who voted in the last three Democratic primaries, "soft D’s," meaning once since 2010, and "R’s" and "non-D’s," those who voted Republican or don’t vote in primaries. The voter file can be keyed to demography. For instance, every Hispanic-sounding name can be isolated. In a primary, every hard and soft D household gets deluged with mail.

The "voter list" is not for sale. Only "endorsed" candidates get access to it. On Feb. 3 the Democratic Majority Fund paid the state party $1,500 for the 40th District list, donated it to Andrade, and then spent $18,183 for printing and postage for mailings on Feb. 10, Feb. 14 and Feb. 18. Every lucky "D" household will get a mailing extolling Andrade’s virtues or Goldstein’s and Schiavone’s vices every four days until March 18. That’s another $42,000.

"This race should be about background and qualifications," Goldstein said, lamenting that he lacks the political connections of Andrade, whom he dismisses as a "lifetime payroller." Goldstein said that at candidate forums Andrade stresses his "immigrant background," which is relevant in a district with a 50 percent Hispanic population, but that he "never mentions Mell or Madigan." "If you want to keep Madigan in power, if you want to bust unions, then vote for Andrade," Goldstein said. "I will not be beholden to special interests."

Schiavone won the 2012 committeeman’s race when Alderman Rey Colon (35th) botched his petitions and was knocked off the ballot. She promised to be "independent," adding that voters are "tired of backroom deals . . . and the politics of self-interest."

Schiavone said that she was "raised by a single mother who was a public school teacher for 35 years" and that she has been endorsed by the SEIU, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "I oppose charter schools," she said. "There is no accountability. They’re an avenue of political insiders," pointing to Madigan, who she slammed for "tampering with pensions."

Turnout will be under 5,000. Mell’s machine is in overdrive. "Magic Mike" will pump $100,000 into the race, but "Energizer Jaime" is doing his best to lose.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www.