Phil Reese

The history maker's historian: Jon Knoll on Jim Madigan

Filed By Phil Reese | November 15, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Chicago, Heather Steans, Illinois, Jim Madigan, Jon Knoll, New Jersey, Senate, state senate

Illinois has had its share of making history lately, but we have the opportunity to make history once again with an unprecedented number of openly gay candidates going into this Spring's primaries. Cook County (Chicago) is leading the pack with dozens of openly gay candidates for various offices on all levels. One of those offices is the 7th State Senate district currently being held by Democrat Heather Steans who is being challenged in the Primaries by openly gay former Executive Director of Equality Illinois, Jim Madigan.

The district includes Andersonville, which is the up-and-coming new 'gayborhood' for the city of Chicago, no doubt part of the reason that Steans introduced a Marriage Equality bill and transgender friendly legislation in the Illinois state Senate not long after Jim Madigan announced his campaign. Though Steans makes LGBT rights a very big priority on her webpage, Candidate Madigan has made it a career, no doubt a fact that will be very appealing to LGBT people in the northern shore neighborhoods he is campaigning in.

Surely the opportunity to make history with the first openly gay candidate for the state Senate isn't lost on Madigan's supporters. Least not on Jon Knoll who has been traveling around with the candidate, documenting his historic campaign and sharing it with the world on YouTube and social networking sites. On my way to catching up with Madigan to discuss his campaign, I spoke to Knoll for a bit about why he thinks that Jim Madigan is someone that matters.

Knoll never knew about Madigan when he was a young prodigy, running one of the most respected state-wide LGBT organizations in the nation. He first caught wind of Madigan right when his campaign began.

"I saw news stories about him, and I thought he was interesting," says Knoll, a veteran of TV and film production in Chicago. "I liked what he was saying and I reached out to him."

Knoll is a campaign volunteer and does not get paid for his time. He is simply someone who believes in the cause of getting Jim Madigan elected to the state Senate in Illinois. Knoll says that Madigan's message resonates with him because Jim is a democrat, but he's not a "machine" democrat.

"He's not beholden to the 'machine,'" Knoll told me, referring to the 'rough and tumble Chicago political machine' often referred to in the media across the country. "The Democrats have been in control for eight years, but things in Illinois aren't necessarily better. As a Democrat I want to see something more. I like that Jim's idea go against the standing order. He's the kind of guy that's going to get the ball rolling and get us some change in Springfield."

Madigan, who was endorsed by the Victory Fund helped write the state's first civil unions bill, and has been tireless in his efforts to get relationship recognition for same-gender couples in Illinois. However, despite being introduced in every legislative session for most of this decade, now, the civil unions bill seems to keep getting stuck. Its time to try to make change from the inside.

Madigan's record shows that he is serious about rights--he gave up a lucrative job at a high-paying law firm to do pro bono legal work before joining Lambda Legal and later run the state's largest LGBT rights organization.

"Jim Madigan is committed to seeing civil unions pass. Jim is a true believer." Knoll said.

Knoll also points out that Madigan is not "independently wealthy." Steans, on the other hand, contributed "over $750,000 to campaigns before becoming a candidate herself," Knoll claims.

Running against a rich incumbent is going to be an uphill battle, Knoll admits, but that's part of the reason that he likes Madigan. As Madigan's website says: "You don't have to take a chance that Jim will look out for the working class when he is our State Senator. Jim is working class." Of course, he does teach law at the University of Chicago--one of the nation's best law schools--he's no blue-collar "Bobby-Ray" or anything.

LGBT rights, however, aren't his only priority. Knoll also indicates that he's interested in moving to "a more fair tax system" with a graduated income tax, and an end to raises in the sales tax. He wants to cut down on gambling, create better community policing programs using existing grants and state funds and make it harder for municipalities in budget crunches to sell off assets to private companies out from under the noses of its citizens. According to the campaign, he's also in favor of better health and physical education programs in school and protecting Illinois residents from dangerous concealed weapons.

Madigan's website also lists cleaning up the environment--and the political process--as priorities as well. Madigan protested against Playboy Entertainment's involvement in Chicago city politics while just starting his career and is used to going up against the establishment to get things done. He suffered the consequences for it--he was denied a six-figure salary job after his actions--but he sees it as his duty to fight for what's right. Its obvious Jon Knoll is a fan of this spirit.

Check out Jon Knoll's videos of Jim as they make history at the YouTube channel.


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Jim Madigan sounds like a terrific candidate, and I am glad he is running for office. We would benefit from him in government.

But I am a little disheartened that his success would come at the cost of the incumbent, Heather Steans. She seems solidly pro-LGBT, as well as supportive of a wide range of progressive positions.
Its a shame we can't elect them both.

I've been wondering - is Jim Madigan one of THE Madigans? As in Mike and Lisa?

Strangely enough, different family. What are the odds of unrelated people with such a rare name making such a splash in Illinois politics? (well, I know Mike and Lisa are related, but Jim isn't at least)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 16, 2009 9:19 AM

Phil I lived in Chicago from 1975 to 2002 and Illinois is a strange animal. While I am sure your candidate is a good person I remember when Rod Blogojevich was a breath of fresh air. When I read that "although the Democrats have been in power in Springfield for eight years nothing has changed to benefit working class people" all that I could think about was the crap Washington was sending to Illinois via the Republican Congress and the Bush administration in the way of mandates, cutbacks and restrictions.

I only look at results. I never expected to be judged on my sexuality but on the results I could provide in my working life. If the person he is running against will come to our side *strongly* I would go with her seniority in the state senate over any promise of the unknown. She already knows where the sharks are. And she should also tell the electorate what they can expect to achieve in Springfield.

This is the secret. Under promise and over deliver.

Dono Albrecht | November 16, 2009 10:11 AM

This comment is a bit out of date, probably because Robert left Chicago in 2002. Jim Madigan's opponent, Heather Steans, prior to her taking office donated over $750,000 to political candidates, $200,000 of which went directly to Blago while he was in office. The above comment also misquotes the article, as I read it, the statement "nothing has changed to benefit the working class people" does not appear as a quote. Sloppy. Then for some reason the writer compares this misquoted quote to Republicans and Washington. What? Robert refers to Blago, but doesn't seem to understand that while Blago and the Democrats controlled State politics they brought disorder and economic chaos. Seems like a good time to bring in a grassroots Democratic candidate who didn't write checks to get their seat in the Senate. Also, Heather Steans can hardly be called a senior Senator, as she is a first term incumbent. Heather also voted against a law that would have given people the right to recall the Governor in Illinois while Blago was in office. Once Blago had been kicked out she suddenly thought the ability to recall was a good thing. She's followed a similar path with LGBT rights. Jim Madigan helped draft a Civil Unions bill that was vetted and passed committee. Once he entered the race against Heather, she signed onto a marriage bill that had not been vetted and had little chance of standing a vote. Now that Jim is bring this to light she is about to change direction and suddenly support the Civil Unions bill.