Michael’s schooling reflected his origins: 1956-60 St. Ignatius High School (later College Prep), 1960-64 U. of Notre Dame, 1967 Loyola Law school J.D., leading to his being elected 13th Ward committeeman by the ward’s precinct captains in 1969, making him, at 27, the youngest ward boss in the city.
A meteoric rise, and well deserved. In a short time he turned the ward from Republican into a Democratic stronghold.
In that year and into the next, 1969-70, he was delegate to the Illinois Constitution Convention which rewrote the Illinois Constitution. By which time he had become an assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago and a hearing officer for the Illinois Commerce Commission.
In the latter capacity, in March, 1969, he heard a case whereby the Belt Line Railroad was asked by residents of the 7000 and 7100 blocks of 63rd and 64th streets and 64th Place, in the Clearing neighborhood, to erect a fence on either side of tracks running through that area, at 63rd and Harlem, with homes on one side, stores on the other, to protect the more than 200 young people in the area, at a cost estimated at $2,400.
There had never been a claim for injuries to a child under age nine in the area, said a Belt Line representative at the five-hour hearing, which had been requested by the local alderman. A resident countered this argument, saying, “Saving one child would be worth it.”
After a five-hour meeting, Madigan said he would take the case under advisement. The railroad’s lawyer had said it was up to the city to put up the fence, because the city had rezoned the area for residential housing. Alderman Frank Kuta (23rd), had argued the need for a fence: “Homes are on one side of the tracks, and stores are on the other,” so that children found it natural “to take a short cut across the tracks to purchase soft drinks or candy,” there being “no overhead crosswalk.” Some even played on the tracks, another man said. A Chicago Youth Commission representative noted that children are naturally attracted to railroads.
A fence would not always stop them, said a railroad spokesman. Plus, the precedent would force the railroad to enclose hundreds of miles of track. Saving just one child would justify the expenditure, said Kuta.
Madigan decided in favor of the residents. A six-foot fence was to be installed by June 15. When the railroad objected, asking an interim delay, Madigan said the ICC order “means what it says.” At issue this time was whether the railroad or the city would install it.
Ald. Kuta had pressed the issue after months of complaints from residents.
A year later, Madigan ran for the Illinois House 27th district with the Chicago Tribune endorsement, was elected, beginning his 45-year incumbency.
— more to come —