(MCT) — The young underdog in the state’s remarkable David vs. Goliath political campaign met me for lunch so I could ask her about her qualifications against the grizzled and terrible warlord.
We were at The New Pindos Restaurant on Archer and Pulaski. My dad and brothers and I would eat breakfast there sometimes when we had our family supermarket in the neighborhood. I ordered the pepper and egg sandwich and asked the political underdog the most important question:
Are you Boss Madigan?
“No,” said Michele Piszczor. “I’m Michele Piszczor.”
Piszczor, 25, underfunded, understaffed and relatively unknown, is in the Democratic primary for the Legislature against the most powerful political boss in the state: Illinois Democratic Party Chairman and House Speaker Michael Madigan, 42.
Actually, 42 isn’t his biological age. The number 42 is his BHI — Boss Hog Index — the number of consecutive years he’s been in the state Legislature.
Decade after decade, he’s been there, most of that time as speaker of the House, in charge of all legislation, as governors came and went away (some to prison) and the state went broke.
And he was there when lawmakers handed out all those juicy (and still unfunded) pension deals to public employees who knew how to work a precinct and repay their debts to the Democrats with votes.
But for the first time in memory, the 69-year-old Madigan has a campaign on his hands. He’s used to running against handpicked stooges who don’t dare open their mouths. There are two other opponents in the Democratic primary. They have Latino last names, and neither seems to be campaigning. Realists might think they were put there to split the Latino vote.
And waiting for the winner in the general election is a Republican who reportedly hasn’t voted Republican in some 20 years. Madigan’s last Republican challenger, a young fellow named John Patrick Ryan, didn’t even tell his parents he was running. When last we checked, young Ryan still works for Chicago Streets and San.
Is not the Lord of Madiganistan a river to his people? He has all the state’s political muscle and political leverage to elect his Democratic legislative majority, and to elect judges, from grateful newbies to grateful Illinois Supreme Court justices. He also helps his daughter, Lisa, the attorney general, who still hasn’t figured out how to investigate political corruption in this corrupt state.
And when he’s not doing all that bossing, he makes a handsome living — some would say a fortune — in a private law practice reducing property taxes for the wealthiest landowners in the state, many of whom are Republicans.
But that hasn’t stopped his campaign from dismissing Piszczor as a Republican plant.
Though Piszczor was a college volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency and she insists she’s a Democrat, she has also received donations from a few Republicans, like conservative businessman Jack Roeser, a longtime foe of Combine Republicans who play ball with the Democrats in Springfield.
Her campaign reports she received $10,000 from John and Jeannine Roeser, and another $10,000 from a political action committee controlled by Jack Roeser.
“How many Republicans have given Madigan money over the years?” she said. “I’m a Democrat. But Democratic politicians won’t give me donations. They’re afraid of him. Democratic voters have donated, yes, and yes, Jack Roeser and others. We agree on one thing: Madigan has to go.”
So you’re sure you’re not Mike Madigan?
“I told you already,” Piszczor said. “No.”
It is the most important question. If she’s not Madigan, and if she wins (and yes, I know it’s a long shot), the era of the Chicago bosses might finally be at an end. And if she loses, can you put your forehead to the ground and say, “Gov. Lisa,” and mean it?
I explained to Piszczor that those who’ve condemned Madigan for helping bankrupt the state say they’re concerned about her lack of experience.
“Madigan was only two years older than me when he was elected,” she said. “And then he became a boss and helped ruin the state.”
I decided to finish the questions:
If you were elected, would you ever install your inexperienced daughter as the top law enforcement officer in the state, and set her up to become governor, just because you’re the boss?
“No,” Piszczor said. “When I do have a family, I’m not going to put my own children in office. This is a government, not a family business.”
If voters elect you, will you ever help install somebody like Danny Degnan — a relatively inexperienced political hack — as a Cook County judge, basically making Danny a judge for life?
“No,” she said.
Not even if his daddy, former state Sen. Tim Degnan, was the political enforcer for Mayor Richard M. Daley and Tim was one guy you could talk sense with when Daley was in one of his rages?
“No,” said Piszczor. “That’s wrong.”
It’s kind of like spitting in the faces of the people, isn’t it?
“Yes,” she said.
Would you open a law practice to reduce property taxes for your wealthy clients, even though in the Legislature you would shape tax policy, giving the moutza to working and middle-class people?
“No,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong with the system. All the politicians are afraid of him."
“Why are they so afraid?”
Because he is Mike Madigan.
“And I’m not,” she said.
No further questions are necessary.