July 12, 2013
If only we lived in a comic book, instead of the corrupt, windswept political wasteland now known to taxpayers as Madiganistan, we'd know just what to do:
We'd go up on top of the Tribune Tower, flick on a switch, activate a giant spotlight and shine that beam at the heavens.
It might be the letters "L" and "M" bouncing up there on the clouds.
Or a silhouette of eyeglasses.
What we need is a Lisa Light — a beacon that will summon assistance while beleaguered taxpayers cry:
Save us, Lisa Madigan. Save us, Illinois attorney general and the people's lawyer, from political scandal, hush-money payments and a lot of political gobbledygook.
Unfortunately, I don't have a Lisa Light. So I had to place a call on my Lisa Phone.
If you've been reading the Tribune, you know all about this latest scandal, since Tribune reporters have been peeling back the stinking onion for weeks. It involves more than $700,000 in hush money used to shut the mouth of ousted Metra Chief Executive Officer Alex Clifford.
He succeeded the last CEO, Phil Pagano, who stepped in front of a speeding train when it was discovered that he'd skimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the agency.
Some say politely that the deal for $700,000 — almost triple Clifford's salary — includes a "confidentiality agreement." But where I come from, paying a public official to shut his mouth — and threatening to cut off the payments if that mouth opens in public — is hush money.
Now there are allegations of patronage abuse, political influence, even the involvement of the big political boss himself, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Lisa's Daddy.
Boss Madigan felt compelled to issue a statement Thursday, minutes before a state legislative committee hearing, saying he didn't pressure Clifford to give a raise to an underling.
It sure would have served the public interest — meaning the taxpayers — if Clifford could have testified.
Sadly, he informed me Thursday that he couldn't testify without risking the loss of the cash. But that didn't stop the political hacks at Metra from bashing him.
Obviously, this is a problem for the people who pay for Metra.
So whom do beleaguered taxpayers call at a time like this?
In the land of Madiganistan — once known as Illinois — there is only one.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the state's top law enforcement officer.
She's thinking about running for governor, and she's raising oodles of cash. But when I called her office Thursday, all I wanted to know was this:
When would Lisa Madigan, the people's champion, hold a news conference to announce that she'd begun investigating the Metra scandal?
You'd think it would be a no-brainer for someone who wants to protect the beleaguered taxpayers.
First, there's the hush-money issue. Then there's all that political intrigue. Also, don't forget about the alleged patronage and contract issues, which reportedly led to Clifford's ouster.
Apparently, Clifford didn't want to hire people based on their skin pigment, or their political connections, or give out contracts based on political connections. In Madiganistan, this is an outrage. So the Metra board arranged to pay him off and say goodbye.
Brad O'Halloran, a southwest suburban Democrat, is the Metra board chairman. Years ago he got a nice piece of juicy O'Hare Airport contracts, because he was partnered with the famed City Hall political "expediter" Jeremiah Joyce, who was in the inner circle of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
One of Daley's most trusted advisers once described Joyce as the Keyser Soze of Chicago politics.
These days, the southwest suburbs, and the rest of the state, are under the claw of Boss Madigan. And Lisa Madigan, the people's lawyer, is Boss Madigan's daughter.
O'Halloran voted for the hush money but has been highly critical of Clifford. When the deal was revealed June 21, Tribune reporter Richard Wronski quoted O'Halloran as saying:
"While we want every dollar possible to go directly to serving our passengers, this payment is a small price to pay for future goals of garnering more state and federal investment in Metra and taking Metra in a different direction."
After all, who wouldn't want to invest in a corrupt public transportation system with little or no oversight run by a bunch of politicians who dance when the boss plays the bagpipes?
Only one Metra board member, Jack Schaffer, refused to dance. He voted against the hush money. "Hell, no," Schaffer said during the vote.
So on Thursday I asked Lisa Madigan's office when she'd announce her investigation. Again, she's thinking about running for governor, and she's the people's attorney, and there's that big stinky Metra onion perfuming all the daily train commuters who suffer delays and service problems.
Lisa isn't investigating Metra or whether her dad is involved.
"The facts involving the Metra CEO's departure are just starting to emerge as this committee hearing gets underway," said a Madigan spokeswoman. "It is important that the committee continue this work to ensure the public is aware of all the facts at hand."
That's the committee of the legislature that Boss Madigan controls. The committee where hacks can speak freely while the fellow receiving the hush money keeps his mouth shut.
Oh, Lisa. Lisa Madigan. Where are you in this, our hour of need?
Save us, Lisa Madigan. Please, save us Lisa.
We'll leave the light on for you. The Lisa Light.
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