Profiles: King of Clout, the speaker's daughter, a forbidden love, a professor's deadly secret and 'June Cleaver without the pearls'
"He seems to always have the ears of governors."
That's how one longtime political operative described GOP powerbroker William Cellini, the man Sun-Times headline writers dubbed the "King of Clout" -- years before his access to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich would yield trouble and a federal prison sentence.
That was one detail in one of several long-form profiles that I've written or collaborated on with colleagues over the years that I've included below.
For a piece about Lisa Madigan shortly after she was elected to the state Senate, I got House Speaker Michael Madigan, wife Shirley and the attorney general herself to open up as they never have before publicly about her experience growing up a Madigan.
Another piece on former Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan, whose daughter described her as "June Cleaver without the pearls," offered similarly personal details about her early days dating her husband and his longer-term political ambitions.
Not every story involved politics. More recently, I delved into the secret one downstate university professor kept from his employer about killing his family in the 1960s, a story that went on to draw national exposure.
And finally, there was the exclusive piece I did on how a journalist and senator fell deeply in love, the senator developed terminal cancer and the pair took extraordinary steps to keep their lesbian relationship secret because of the social mores of the day.
WILLIAM CELLINI: State Capitol's quiet captain of clout; Dealmaker built empire working in background (10/6/1996)
LISA MADIGAN: Like father, like daughter (12/13/1998)
LURA LYNN RYAN: ‘June Cleaver with Pearls” (1/11/1999)
SCOTT FAWELL: Fawell made name with tough tactics; Born into political family, he follows take-no-prisoners rules of combat (5/3/2002)
JUDY BAAR TOPINKA: Social moderate is conservative with cash: Treasurer: 'I see one big sham on the part of this governor' (5/13/2006)
JAMES ST. JAMES: MILLIKIN UNIVERSITY; PROF'S DARK SECRET; College shocked to learn psychology department chair killed parents in '67 (8/25/2013)
PENNY SEVERNS AND TERRY MUTCHLER: Love and a lawmaker; Gay marriage laws arrived too late for Penny Severns and Terry Mutchler, but their hearts were joined (8/31/2014
Former Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn, pictured above in the front row to the left with her husband and the late South African President Nelson Mandela, and former state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, pictured below at a rally seeking the legalization of gay marriage, were other political figures I've profiled.
"I discouraged it for several months. Then, after maybe three months, I finally relented and agreed. 'OK, we'll try and do this.' But I laid out for her what kind of nightmare I was going to go through."