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House Speaker Michael Madigan rolls over opponents

Updated: April 22, 2012 10:20AM

Assuming the idea behind conservative Republicans bankrolling a Democratic primary opponent against House Speaker Michael J. Madigan was to send a message to the political community, it was clear Tuesday that Madigan had hit the “reply all” button.

His return message: You’ll have to try harder than that.

Madigan swatted away a challenge from political novice Michele Piszczor with a big push from his 13th Ward Democratic precinct captains.

With 99 percent of the precincts counted, Madigan was looking at a 76-17 percent winning margin with two stooge candidates splitting the other 7 percent.

I don’t know that anybody expected otherwise except for maybe Piszczor herself, though there’s always a little bit of doubt until the voters have spoken.

When I spoke to Piszczor just minutes before the polls closed, I suggested that after spending the afternoon visiting 13th Ward polling places, my expectation was that she’d be doing well to finish in the 10-20 percent range ­— and asked if she’d consider that a victory.

“I’m in it to win. There is no such thing as second place,” insisted Piszczor, who complained that Madigan workers had resorted to cheating to defeat her.

Piszczor said she had evidence of ballots being cast in the names of two dead people at a polling place in Strohacker Park, 4347 W. 54th. Chicago election officials said they are investigating the complaint.

While I didn’t observe any cheating Tuesday except perhaps the usual electioneering too close to the polling place, it was evident that Madigan’s old-fashioned patronage army was pushing extra hard to bring in good numbers for the boss. That type of effort that has been known to lead to excesses, but it doesn’t explain losing 76 to 17.

I’m not suggesting Piszczor wasted her time in challenging Madigan.

There’s certainly a value to making sure no politician takes his constituents for granted, as some voters I met Tuesday complained of Madigan.

Others told me they might have considered voting for an alternative if only he’d had a more serious opponent than Piszczor.

Still, the results were vindication for Madigan. His people still have his back, which many of them explained to me was in recognition of the help received through the years from those precinct captains.

The irony remains that from such a small base flows so much power.

It appeared that fewer than 10,000 votes would be cast for Madigan when the tallies were complete. Assuming he stomps his Republican opponent in the fall in the heavily Democratic district, he’ll be Speaker again with the support of 59 of his fellow House members.

I understand why that frustrates people. I’m as eager as anybody for Madigan, who turns 70 next month, to ride off into the sunset — if only to give us a fresh start in Springfield.

But portraying him as the all powerful cartoon villain from whom all evil flows in Illinois government is also an overly simplistic rewrite of history. Madigan helped get Illinois into this mess, but he also may be the best person to help get us out.

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