SPRINGFIELD — “Nobody gets in to see the wizard. Not nobody, not no how.”
Those words quoting the “Wizard of Oz” hung from the wall of the statehouse office of Tim Mapes.
And they summed up his job nicely. He was the gatekeeper to Mike Madigan, speaker of the House and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
He routinely turned away legislators, lobbyists, businessmen and others seeking an audience with the most powerful politician in Illinois.
But in the wake of a recent plea deal between Commonwealth Edison and federal prosecutors, people are asking: What does Mapes know, and what will he say?
There is no indication that Mapes has done anything wrong, but it was the nature of his job to be in the know.
After all, for 26 years, he was Madigan’s chief of staff. And he also was the director of the Illinois Democratic Party — while Madigan was speaker of the House and chairman of the Democratic Party.
Mapes was once one of the most important people in Springfield. But unless you are an inside player in state government, you’ve likely never heard of him.
In the recent plea deal, ComEd essentially admitted to giving bribes to Madigan.
The bribes would be in the form of contracts and jobs at the giant utility that Madigan could dole out to his supporters.
Through a spokesperson, Madigan has said he is innocent of wrongdoing. And he has not been charged with a crime.
That said, it would appear that Madigan is the target of federal prosecutors. And this is why questions have been percolating through Springfield as to whether prosecutors will seek Mapes’ cooperation in pursuing a case against Madigan.
When George Ryan went to prison, it was after his former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, testified against him.
When Rod Blagojevich was locked up, it was after his chief of staff, Bradley Tusk, testified against him.
So, it’s no stretch to assume the feds may be hoping for some cooperation from Mapes or one of Madigan’s other confidants.
“Madigan plays it pretty close to the vest,” Fawell said. “He only has a few people who he tells what he is thinking, and Mapes was one of them. I anticipate the feds are going to put pressure on him to see if they can get him to talk. The thing is when you are chief of staff, you’re the go-to guy to get things done.”
Fawell, who was sentenced to more than six years in prison on corruption charges, said the pressure to testify is enormous.
“They will go through your taxes and see if there is anything there that they can prosecute you on. Then they will lean on your friends and family members and threaten them with prosecution if you don’t cooperate. There is a reason the federal government wins 99 percent of its cases.”
Mapes did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday. He has not been accused of any crime.
But all has not been well between Mapes and his former boss.
In 2018, Madigan removed Mapes from his jobs, after he was accused of fostering “a culture of sexism, harassment and bullying that creates an extremely difficult working environment.”
It’s worth nothing the sexagenarian was not accused of making sexual advances toward any staff members. Accusations centered on remarks that just a few years before would likely not have resulted in any disciplinary action. He was an early casualty of the #MeToo movement.
Whether the circumstances of his ouster would make him more or less likely to cooperate with federal investigators is not known.
“It’s an extremely isolated position he’s in right now,” Fawell said. “I remember showing up at a golf tournament when the feds were investigating George Ryan. Nobody wanted to talk to me because they feared being subpoenaed. You feel very alone.”
Longtime statehouse reporter and political observer Charles Wheeler III, said he doesn’t anticipate criminal charges being made against Madigan.
“Mike Madigan knows where the line is, and he doesn’t cross it. He’s not going to cross it in public and he’s not going to cross it in private when he’s talking to Tim Mapes or anyone else. If the prosecutors had anything on Madigan, they would have already charged him.”
But Fawell said dealing with federal prosecutors is rarely so straight forward.
“I’m not saying that people lie. But after they have been interviewed several times by prosecutors, what they remember being said in a particular conversation can change.”