One of the most intriguing political races in Illinois took a strange turn after the husband of Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans confronted challenger Jim Madigan in an Andersonville nightspot Dec. 10.
According to a press release, lobbyist Leo Smith, Steans' husband, went to a pro-Madigan fundraiser held at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr, an LGBT dance bar. ( Madigan is openly gay. ) The press release stated, "Leo Smith came to the bar, passed by the check-in table, and hid in the back corner of the bar. Smith sat at the bar for an hour drinking and appeared disheveled. ... Madigan quietly mentioned to his campaign manager that the man at the bar was staring at him strangely and looked a lot like Senator Steans' husband. At one point, Smith arose from the bar and disappeared into the men's room for about [ 10 ] minutes."
The release then stated that Smith approached Madigan as the latter was speaking with U.S. Senate candidate Jacob Meister. After Smith introduced himself and Madigan acknowledged him, Smith then said, "I'm not here for your event! I know you think you're gonna get famous with all your BULLSHIT! But those things are about me!" After Madigan said, 'I don't want to be famous," Smith responded, "I was in Iowa for two weeks!" Smith then said a series of fragments: "I was in Iowa for Barack Obama! I've helped kids. I'm a progressive, and I've believed in those things. And you're attacking my wife!"
Then, according to the release, Smith and Madigan talked about everything from Gov. Rod Blagojevich to gay rights. About the latter issue, Smith allegedly taunted Madigan, saying, "You've done so much for gay rights. You need to spend a little more time working. You can't even get the endorsement of the ones you worked for!" ( In response to that, Madigan said, "You're right. I can't afford to sponsor every gay organization's gala and buy tables at them like you." )
Eventually, Madigan's staffers moved in and separated the two. Smith eventually left the bar.
Madigan was characteristically candid with Windy City Times Dec. 13, describing the situation as "tacky." He said that "the part of it that gets me a little annoyed is that these folks are not rogue [ people ] who interrupt other people; they live in high society and go to every sort of elite function around. The fact that they're willing to come to our little event, camp out there and cause a little scene show some type of mentalitylike they couldn't give the common decency you'd give someone else. ... You know they'd never do that to anyone of any social significance.
"This is not what progressive, liberal Democrats do, in terms of how they interact with competition and challenge. This is what old-style, machine, intimidation-type politics is about. I hope this is actually a little revealing to [ people ] . They feel they're entitled to their seat; this is their approach."
Madigan also talked about the veracity of his own claims: "Everything we're saying is documented; it's all available on public record. Thousands of dollars to Blagojevich. I'm not making up Carol Ronen retiring two weeks before a deadline so Heather could walk right into that seat. They don't like that someone questions them."
Madigan said that he was momentarily concerned about his own safety, but there are no lingering worries. ( The following day, Madigan added that neither Steans nor Smith had contacted him to apologize. )
When asked for her reaction, Steans e-mailed Windy City Times, "While chivalry may not be dead, in this case it surely looks stupid. Leo should not have been at the back of the room of Jim Madigan's event, even if it was in a public place, and had no business talking to Jim at this event. I will continue to focus on presenting my legislative record and discussing the many critical issues facing the 7th District."