Ex-Madigan aide testifies in ComEd trial, the efforts to revive downtown and more in your Chicago news roundup

Today’s update is about an eight-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

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Former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan

Former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.

Associated Press file photo

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 cloudy with a high near 41 degrees. Expect similar weather tonight with a low near 34. Tomorrow will be mostly cloudy with a high near 43.

Top story

‘The speaker gets to do what he wants to do,’ Michael Madigan is heard saying at secretly recorded leadership meeting

A close, longtime staffer for former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan took the stand in the ComEd bribery trial today, testifying under immunity about secretly recorded 2018 discussions about House leadership in which a longtime Madigan confidant participated.

Will Cousineau, who served as the speaker’s issues director and as political director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, is the closest person to Madigan that jurors have heard from so far. 

Cousineau took the stand 50 minutes before the trial broke for lunch. He said he considered his rank in Madigan’s world to be just below the likes of Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes and onetime Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.

Cousineau told jurors he received an immunity letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office at the request of his lawyers, Michael Del Galdo and Sean Sullivan. Such a letter would typically prevent a witness from invoking the Fifth Amendment on the witness stand. Del Galdo has longtime ties to Madigan’s political operation. 

The testimony came during the federal trial of McClain and three other former political power players: Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty. The four are accused of trying to bribe Madigan by landing his associates money, jobs and contracts in order to sway the then-powerful speaker while legislation crucial to ComEd moved through the statehouse.

Critical to the case is whether McClain acted as an agent of Madigan and passed along his demands, as well as Madigan’s ability to kill legislation in the House in a variety of ways.

During the first 50 minutes of Cousineau’s testimony, jurors heard snippets from a secretly recorded Dec. 9, 2018 conversation. Madigan discussed, with members of his staff, leadership assignments ahead of the new Illinois General Assembly that would be sworn into office in January 2019. 

Madigan told the group that “in the case of the majority leader, I view that as my appointment. I have no compunction about saying that to anyone who wants to listen to me.”

He explained that the majority leader plays “a key role in House operations.”

“I understand we have a lot of people walking around trying to find things to complain about, and every once in a while, the speaker gets to do what he wants to do,” Madigan said. “Every once in a while.”

Our Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles have more from day seven of this historic trial.

More news you need

COVID-19: Three years later

Chicago businesses adapt to outlast ‘agonizingly slow’ COVID-19 recovery 3 years after shutdown

Pedestrians walk by a vacant storefront at 10 S. La Salle St. in December. City officials are looking at ways to revitalize the Loop.

Pedestrians walk by a vacant storefront at 10 S. La Salle St. in December. City officials are looking at ways to revitalize the Loop.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Even on a bright day in the middle of a workweek, downtown Chicago can’t shake the gloom.

Prime corners in many places are vacant, and the surviving restaurants, if they’re smart, have window or sidewalk signs declaring themselves open. Except for the commuting or lunch rushes, any day can seem like a drowsy Sunday from before the pandemic hit.

Some businesses have changed their hours and competitive approaches. But few who run them are certain about the rhythms of urban life they depended on. The pandemic has had a lasting effect on where people want to work and, therefore, spend.

Weekly data from Kastle Systems, which tracks the comings and goings in buildings where it has security equipment, has shown that starting in late January, around 50% of downtown Chicago office workers were in the space daily.

David Roeder takes a look into how downtown is weathering the impacts of the pandemic — three years later.

A bright one

Neal Francis takes a cue from Peter Frampton for high-stakes Thalia Hall gigs

Finding your music catalogued next to Peter Frampton in record store bins would be a hallelujah moment for most musicians, but for Chicago piano rocker Neal Francis, it also gave him an idea.

At Thalia Hall tomorrow and Saturday, he will stage “Francis Comes Alive,” that will see him attempt to create a live album a la the great “Frampton Comes Alive!”

“That was such a huge rock live record from the ’70s and is ubiquitous in everyone’s record collection, including my father’s. I’m excited to be doing this show, playing with a large 11-piece ensemble and to having our stylist Rachel who is designing all these costumes for everyone to wear. It’s really my childhood dream come true,” says Francis during a recent phone interview.

It’s a relic from the 30-something’s formative days growing up in Oak Park where he was raised on his audiophile parents’ record collection (Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, ELO, Muddy Waters and The Who being go-to spins) and where he began playing classical piano at the age of four before finding his way into Chicago blues clubs as a teen.


Neal Francis headlines Thalia Hall this weekend in two shows.

Liina Raud

In no time, Francis went from a standing Tuesday night gig at Rosa’s Lounge with friends Pete Galantis and Dave Herrero, to sharing the stages with My Morning Jacket and Marcus King, recording with Derek Trucks (who contributes an ear jam slide guitar solo on the “In Plain Sight” track “Can’t Stop The Rain”), earning an Emerging Act of the Year nomination from the Americana Association, and appearing on “CBS Saturday Morning.” Not to mention Rolling Stone giving him the impressive title of the one person “making piano rock cool again.”

The artist remains committed to Chicago, even as his growing career calls him to the coasts.

“I still go to Rosa’s on Tuesdays, I’ve also been going out dancing. I love house and disco, so I’ll go catch a set at Smartbar or Berlin,” says Francis. “Chicago is simply one of the best places in the world.”

Selena Fragassi has more with Francis ahead of his stint at Thalia Hall.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

Work from home is one pandemic trend that’s not going away. Which do you prefer — working from home or in the office? Tell us why.

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

Yesterday, we asked you: Did you pick up a new hobby during those initial, shelter-in-place pandemic months? Do you still keep up with it? 

Here’s what some of you said…

“I wrote a new comedy that I will direct for my comedy group. I also took up writing to a great newspaper that solicits reader input, a hobby I continue today. Literally, today. Just now.” — Jeff Kwit

“During the pandemic, I learned how to bake bread. Much to my coworkers' delight, I have kept up with it! On a quiet Sunday, I’ll bake a large batch of baguettes, and bring whatever my family doesn’t want to work on Mondays.” — Katie B.

“Not hobby, but a habit. I’m a retired widow with many public and outside interests. Housebound, I finally bought a TV, signed up with several streaming services, then binged like there was no tomorrow. Who knew? I watched entire seasons of shows recommended by family and friends: The Office, Parks and Recreation, DisneyPlus, classic movies from the 1940s, etc. Now that I’m up and around again, I still watch new and old movies with only the occasional binge. Okay, more than occasional.” — Vivian Russell

“I picked up doing puzzles and I’m still doing them to this day.” — Tim Gaines

“I started learning Spanish with an app and I’m still at it!” — Susan Ross

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

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