First batch of secret Madigan recordings released, mayoral runoff race heats up and more in your Chicago news roundup

For the first time yesterday, jurors in the bribery trial of Michael McClain and three other political power players heard Madigan’s voice on secret recordings.

Justin Fowler/AP file

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about an eight-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

— Matt Moore (@MattKenMoore)

This afternoon will be mostly sunny with a high near 33 degrees. Tomorrow will be mostly cloudy with a chance of flurries and a high near 28. Sunday will be sunny with a high near 41.

Top story

Jurors in ComEd bribery trial get a lesson in machine politics — in Michael Madigan’s own words

Michael J. Madigan couldn’t be bothered to call one of his top deputies, who had decades of experience in the legislature, to tell him it was time to step down over a brewing allegation of misconduct that might go public.

So the powerful Illinois House speaker got on the phone with his key emissary, Michael McClain, to talk about longtime state Rep. Lou Lang.

“So when do you want me to call Lang and just lower the boom on him,” McClain said. “Because he’s not getting, he’s not getting it.”

“Sooner rather than later,” Madigan told him.

Turns out, the FBI was listening back in 2018.

For the first time yesterday, jurors in the bribery trial of McClain and three other political power players heard Madigan’s voice on secret recordings, some of which were made as Lang was being pushed to resign after three decades in the Illinois legislature.

The recordings offered a behind-the-scenes look at one of the #MeToo scandals that roiled the statehouse. It also amounted to an embarrassing episode Thursday for Lang, who sat stone-faced on the witness stand as jurors listened to the call in which McClain told him it was time to resign.

“That is bullsh—,” Lang told McClain on Nov. 8, 2018. “But in the, in the environment in which we are today, doesn’t really matter if it’s bullsh— or not, does it?.”

It also amounted to key evidence in the trial because McClain told Lang he was calling as “an agent, somebody that cares deeply about ya.” McClain and others are on trial for allegedly trying to sway Madigan to benefit ComEd by landing jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s associates, and the feds say McClain passed along Madigan’s demands.

Also on trial are former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. Madigan resigned from the legislature in 2021, and since last year has faced a separate indictment for racketeering.

Tina Sfondeles and Jon Seidel have more on the trial — and audio of the recordings.

More news you need

A federal judge has sentenced a former prison guard to 20 years for joining at least two other guards in fatally beating 65-year-old Larry Earvin to death at the Western Illinois Correctional Center and attempting to cover it up. In pleading for leniency, Alex Banta, 31, said he took a job as a prison guard at 23 and had no idea how it would change him.Federal prosecutors have a mountain of evidence against a small Englewood-based gang charged with 10 killings, gun trafficking and other crimes in a racketeering trial set for May. Called the Goonie Gang, the vicious criminal organization spread “terror and mayhem” through Englewood from 2014 to 2018, federal prosecutors say. Our Frank Main has more on the case against the gang.Those arriving by CTA train at O’Hare Airport during overnight hours need to provide to police proof they have “business” there to be allowed to enter, officials said. The Aviation Department emphasized that the policy has been in place since 2020. Enforcement of that policy appeared to have waned before it was given extra attention in recent months after the number of unhoused people seeking shelter at the airport drew national attention.Dozens of Discount Mall vendors facing eviction rallied outside the Little Village fixture yesterday before heading to Novak Construction on the Northwest Side, where the group delivered a list of demands to John Novak, the mall’s owner. Those demands included having Novak meet the group and find a solution for the vendors who don’t know where else to set up shop and need more time to move their merchandise.A former high-ranking Chicago Public Schools official was sentenced yesterday to probation for lying to the FBI about bribes he received from convicted political operative Roberto Caldero. Pedro Soto, a former CPS chief of staff, was facing up to six months in prison after pleading guilty nearly three years ago.And a University of Illinois Chicago neuroscientist is using rats to study cannabis’s effects on adolescent brains. WBEZ’s Zachary Nauth reports on what Dr. Kuei Tseng has discovered so far.

Elections 2023

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas shake hands before a mayoral debate last night.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Paul Vallas came out of his technocratic shell and fired back at Brandon Johnson last night in a spirited debate that put Johnson on the spot for his past support for the idea of defunding police and his current plan to raise $800 million in taxes to “invest in people.”

During their first televised debate last week, Johnson played offense. He accused Vallas of fronting for “right-wing extremists” and of setting the stage for an avalanche of property tax increases with the “accounting gimmicks” and pension fund raids Johnson accused Vallas of engineering as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

Last night, it was a different Vallas who showed up to debate his runoff opponent at ABC7 Chicago. With the race tightening, even in his campaign’s own internal polls, Vallas brought the verbal equivalent of his boxing gloves to battle. Our Fran Spielman breaks down what happened during last night’s debate.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former mayoral challenger, today endorsed Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff, reuniting Chicago’s fractured family of progressives. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is also throwing his support behind Johnson, it was announced yesterday.

Vallas countered with endorsements from the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and five more establishment City Council members: 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, 17th Ward Ald. David Moore, 18th Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis and 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts.

A bright one

This 100-foot mural at the Salt Shed was created by an 11-year-old Buffalo Grove girl

Lucy Holloway, 11, a sixth-grader from Buffalo Grove, was so excited that she kept her eyes closed at first as her family pulled up to the Salt Shed to see how a drawing she made had been turned into a giant mural.

When she finally took a look, for “a minute, I didn’t really know what to say,” says Lucy, who saw her work transformed into a mural at the entertainment venue along the Kennedy Expressway as her prize for winning a student art contest sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ and Vocalo. “It was kind of crazy seeing it that big.”

The mural — about 20 feet high and 100 feet across — is splashed across the north side of the Salt Shed. The mural space was donated by Wintrust Bank.

Her drawing is titled “All in Harmony” and includes hands of different colors, with hearts centered in the palms, floating in a night sky above a globe on which the Chicago skyline is perched. That’s in keeping with the theme of the contest, “Bringing Chicago’s Voices Together,” meant to celebrate diversity.

After a panel of judges selected her as the winner, her submission was enlarged, printed onto panels and transferred onto the outside wall at the Salt Shed, where it will remain up this month and next month.

“I’m definitely going to keep drawing,” Lucy says.

We’ve got more on Lucy’s work here.

From the press box

If Aaron Rodgers indeed departs soon, will the Packers’ dominance of the Bears actually end? Or will Jordan Love merely continue the trend? Rick Morrissey on Green Bay’s likely new QB and what it means for the NFC North.Tremaine Edmunds wants to continue the Bears’ legacy of legendary linebackers, Mark Potash writes.“It’s time for coach Billy Donovan to take [Zach] LaVine’s training wheels off and let him prove he’s worth the investment moving forward,” Joe Cowley writes of the Bulls’ need to let the All-Star guard take a bigger role late in games.

Your daily question☕

How have your face mask-wearing habits evolved over the course of the pandemic?

Send us an email at and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday we asked you: What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?

“My son died in December 2021. I learned how close my daughter and I could be, the closeness of my grandchildren, the unexpected help from neighbors.” — Rena Neighbors

“Love on your people!” — Janet Leigh Sunshine

“Never let cabinets get low.” — Cheri Weeks

“Friends are important to our well-being. As the old saying goes — make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” — Irene Lathrop

“The pandemic taught me to be more intentional with my time. The first two weeks of shutdown felt like coming into the eye of a storm. I’d been working full time since I was 16 and had accepted I’d be doing just that till I retired. Forced to pause and take stock of my life, I remembered while I work to live I do not live to work.” — Rebecca Llewellyn

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition. Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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