‘It’s only hubris if I fail’: McClain remained loyal to Madigan to the end


Michael McClain was taped by federal authorities at Saputo's restaurant in Springfield, Ill. - U.S. Attorney's Office

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” — St. Augustine

Mike McClain’s friends and supporters always saw him as their champion.

When roads and bridges needed to be built, McClain got the call. Need a Civic Center? McClain is on it.

The ultimate fixer. The insider’s insider. One of the most effective politicians in Illinois was our hometown boy.

(Let’s not kid ourselves. Even though he had been out of office since losing his Illinois House seat to Republican Jeff Mays in 1982, he was still every inch a politician.)

McClain did not draw his strength from a vast portfolio. His power came from one place: Michael J. Madigan, the longest-serving speaker of any state legislature in the history of our republic. A disciple of the legendary Richard J. Daley, the “Boss” mayor of Chicago.

Madigan had one mission: Accumulate and keep power. McClain was his consigliere in a friendship that went back 50 years when both men served in the Illinois House.

If Madigan was the “Velvet Hammer” and the “Master of 3-D Chess,” as the Springfield political establishment labeled him, McClain was his blunt instrument. McClain knew what Madigan wanted, how he thought and what worked for “The Speaker” to stay atop the state’s political heap.

When Madigan became a target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, McClain was bound to get caught in the crossfire. His large lobbying portfolio was the largesse of being the door to Madigan.

ComEd, Anhueser-Busch, Monsanto, Illinois Broadcasters Association, DIAGEO, the Chicago Board of Trade, Walgreens, Comcast, Green Thumb Industries (weed), Sears and Da Bears … those are the major clients McClain had off and on until he officially retired in 2017. All of these companies paid him handsomely for his lobbying efforts — or friendship with Madigan.

But as McClain himself said about “Himself,” he had only one real client.


It was a bit surprising when McClain and the other three people involved in the federal bribery case were found guilty late Tuesday afternoon. Anyone who paid attention to the mountains of evidence and listened to the recordings probably would’ve guessed the guilty verdict was pending, but this is a group of favored people.

And it is Chicago.

Rarely bringing up Madigan’s name directly. All the goofy code words. The “Magic Lobbyist List.” Talking about this guy not getting it or that guy needing to be clued in. Admitting guys were getting paid to do nothing. It was like a high school production of “The Sopranos.”

McClain didn’t accept “no” for an answer. That was proven on the audio recordings made by the feds. He spent years cozying up to Springfield, Chicago and Quincy media types to make sure his (Madigan’s) thumb was on important issues.

There was reciprocity, too. Remember, he was a paid lobbyist for the Illinois Broadcasters Association.

Madigan started to lose his grip over his racketeering indictment (along with McClain), his connection in the bribery case and seeing his associates get swept up in multiple scandals. However, he had ruled for so long that most observers probably thought, “This too will pass.”

The Madigan-fawning by the statehouse political intelligentsia was very similar to how the Democrats and elites viewed (and most still view) McClain here in Quincy. Despite this conviction and possibly another looming, we probably won’t see McClain’s name stricken from any local entities who have recognized him.

The quote in the headline is attributed to Julius Caesar. Hubris usually isn’t recognized until it is too late.

If anyone believes the ComEd case is the exception to the rule, they are naive. McClain operated this way for many years. We just don’t have the tapes to show for it.

Even when he “retired,” his main client said he wasn’t done. A true friend, someone who wished the best for his friend, would have recognized this and said, “Job well done, my friend. Where will we vacation next summer?”

But Madigan was never going to lose his grip on the Statehouse and he believed he needed McClain to keep it. He was going to die in the speaker’s chair. He, eventually, was forcibly removed.

By not allowing McClain to ride off into the sunset back in 2016, this final caper took down the entire Madigan empire … well, that and McClain getting cross with the staff of newly-minted Gov. JB Pritzker in 2018-2019. McClain also was former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s conduit to Madigan, and that didn’t work out so well, either.

Mike McClain is 75 years old and more than likely going to prison … possibly for the rest of his life.

Despite his hubris, McClain was no Brutus to Madigan’s Caesar. He was Antony. Loyal to the end.

Except in this act, Antony falls before Caesar.

J. Robert Gough is the publisher of Muddy River News.

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