January 6th, 2021 12:00 PM
Michael Madigan, who has ruled over Illinois politics with a combination of helping hand and iron fist for nearly half a century, is finally undergoing scrutiny that could end his career.
After it became known that a federal indictment of top Commonwealth Edison officials for alleged bribery refers to Madigan as "Individual A," the Illinois House formed a Special Investigating Committee to delve into his possible criminal conduct.
Such formal scrutiny is long overdue. But similar scrutiny is also long overdue for Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside), who was appointed to lead that investigation.
Welch has shown a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth. A dyed-in-the-wool practitioner of patronage and crony politics, he's a natural born "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" politician.
I've reported on Welch at length for two newspapers, and I don't consider him an honest person. That's an opinion backed up by a Cook County judge's ruling, Welch's own public admission, and a host of available evidence.
Welch got his start in elective politics with key support from west-suburban power brokers, including Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. Once he acquired power heading an elected board, Welch showed he was quite ready to help his friends and relished punishing his enemies.
In 2004, a federal civil jury found Serpico liable for $1 million in punitive damages and the Proviso District 209 high school board liable for $140,000 in the firing of D209 janitor Gino Trombetta, who sued after being fired because of his political opposition to Serpico in Melrose Park. The school district had absolutely no legal obligation to pay Serpico's settlement, since he was neither an elected D209 official or employee. But as D209 board president, Welch forced through a $1 million taxpayer-funded payment of his political patron's financial obligation.
A couple of years later, Welch launched a political website, Proviso Insider, which he used to attack — anonymously — political enemies and people critical of his poor management of D209's financial and educational affairs. It was pretty juvenile stuff, not befitting anyone who wanted to be taken seriously.
His bullying worked until he made the mistake of smearing a couple of attorneys who did legal work for the school district. When the D209 board fired Burt Oldelson and Mark Sterk in 2007 over disputed legal fees, Welch turned on them. Referring to a federal investigation into another school board and a board member who was also a Melrose Park police officer, Welch suggested Mark Sterk had advised the cop on how to lie to a grand jury.
"Are Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk crooks?" he asked. "Will they be indicted next?"
Odelson and Sterk filed a libel/slander suit, and Welch lied about his involvement — until a forensic exam traced Welch's posts back to a computer at his law firm.
Welch managed to get the D209 board to pay some $44,000 of his legal bills, and almost managed to ram through a $400,000 settlement payment from taxpayers, until a state-appointed financial oversight board (put in place because Welch had so utterly mismanaged the district's finances) vetoed the payment.
As part of the eventual settlement he was forced to pay, Welch posted the following retraction on the Proviso Insider website: "The Subject Statements made on the Proviso Insider on July 12, 2007, July 19, 2007, August 27, 2007, and December 15, 2007 regarding Burton S. Odelson, Mark H. Sterk and Odelson & Sterk, Ltd. are hereby unconditionally and unequivocally retracted and the Proviso Insider regrets the publication of those statements on the blog which were made without factual basis."
If ever there is a biography of Welch, "Without Factual Basis" would be an apt title.
Is this the sort of lawyer Democratic House leadership believes is fit to conduct an investigation into the Speaker of the Illinois House?
Perhaps it's time to hold more than just Madigan to account.