A man who unsuccessfully challenged Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in the March Democratic primary has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the longtime political powerbroker of fraud and seeking to "win an election at all costs."
Jason Gonzales of Chicago said Monday that Madigan — who also leads Illinois' Democratic Party — falsely called him a "convicted felon" in campaign ads. He also said Madigan ran two "phony" candidates with Hispanic last names to dilute the votes of Hispanic residents in their 22nd House district race.
Gonzales was convicted of theft and other crimes as a teenager. The Harvard-educated management consultant received a pardon from then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2015 and had his criminal record expunged; a fact he said Madigan was aware of and should have precluded him from telling voters he was a felon.
"This isn't about me being a sore loser. It isn't about me crying because I lost. It's about justice," Gonzales said. "This stuff has got to stop."
Madigan said in a statement that Gonzales himself acknowledged during the campaign and again in the lawsuit filed late Friday that he had been convicted of felonies.
"Jason Gonzales cannot be trusted and his lawsuit is without merit," Madigan said in a statement. "Voters of my district soundly re-nominated me based on my strong record of service, giving me more than 65 percent of the vote, and they emphatically rejected Jason Gonzales because they knew he couldn't be trusted."
Madigan has easily won re-election every two years for about four decades, and is now the nation's longest-serving House speaker.
He won the March primary with 65 percent, while Gonzales got 27 percent of the vote. The other two candidates, who didn't have campaign websites or hold any campaign events, combined for less than 8 percent.
Madigan and his allies also have alleged that Gonzales was encouraged to run by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, noting that some of the people who donated to Gonzales' campaign also have given money to support the governor's agenda.
Gonzales denied Monday that he has any ties to the governor other than having asked some of his supporters for money. He described himself as an "independent progressive Democrat" who ran for office for the first time this year because he wants to change Illinois.
Gonzales' attorney, Anthony Peraica, alleged that Madigan had operatives waiting at the Illinois State Board of Elections office on the final day for candidates to file paperwork to run in the primary. He said Gonzales turned in his paperwork to challenge Madigan just minutes before the deadline, and moments later Madigan's "minions" filed petitions for the other two candidates.
Peraica claimed it's a "longstanding practice" for so-called "ghost" candidates to be put up to split the vote, and that he hopes the lawsuit will put an end to it.
Gonzales is also seeking an unspecified amount in financial damages, saying his reputation was harmed.