"You aren't going to like me," Shaw Decremer declared to those inside Carole Cheney's headquarters, according to several Cheney staffers in the room.
He strolled around the office, making snide comments about her low-budget campaign until, according to Cheney and other witnesses, Cheney said she had enough and asked him to leave. Before he did, Decremer asked if she would pose with him for a picture.
"I keep pictures of all the people we beat," he told her.
And on Election Day, she lost.
In elections and in the Legislature, Madigan is at the top of his game this spring.
As it turned out, Cheney was among at least 24 fellow Democrats who lost in part because they were on the wrong side of Madigan's campaign machine in March. It's a scenario that with rare exception has played out the same way for years: Without Madigan, you lose.
Those who win form the backbone of the House majority he commands. The Chicago Democrat's control over legislation — from a multibillion-dollar Medicaid program to mortgage foreclosure laws — has repeatedly benefited clients of his Chicago property tax law firm, the Tribune has disclosed.
Experts say the confluence of Madigan's public and private careers raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest — but those questions are seldom raised in the face of his enormous sway in both the drafting of the state's laws and the elections of its leaders.
"Madigan clearly has so much power he has made himself impregnable," said James Browning, the regional director of state government operations for the government watchdog group Common Cause, which lobbied unsuccessfully for Illinois lawmakers to keep campaign contribution limits in place. "How do you push back when one man has amassed so much control?"
That same dominance was on display in the legislative session that ended early Friday, as bills he pushed passed the House and those he opposed died.
As not only speaker but chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, Madigan draws the boundaries of legislative districts. He controls the flow of millions of dollars in political contributions.
And because Madigan controls both a state staff and a campaign war chest, he has a ready reserve of public employees he shifts off the payroll at will to add muscle to the most powerful election force in the state.
Decremer and other Democratic staffers are deployed to answer phone calls, schedule campaign events and scour petitions of competing Democrats to get them kicked off the ballot.
Republicans also have pulled dozens of staffers off the state payroll in election years, but after nearly 30 years as speaker, Madigan is the master at using the levers of government to his political advantage.
Even before the primary, Madigan had already carved Republican incumbents out of their Illinois House districts and redrawn the legislative maps to tip the scales in the Democrats' favor for the second decade in a row. But that wasn't good enough.
In select areas of the state — like the Aurora district where Cheney lost — the long arm of the state's most powerful politician reached out to help nearly three dozen loyal incumbents and a few handpicked newcomers to ensure they won.
And in each and every case, they did.