QUINCY -- Mike McClain, a Quincy attorney who has been described as "the most trusted and respected lobbyist in Springfield," has announced his retirement.
McClain, 69, said he told his wife, Cinda Awerkamp McClain, two years ago that he would retire at the end of 2015 as an anniversary present for her.
"Then we had the Exelon bill come up, and my friend Mike Madigan was facing some tough times, and so (the retirement) kind of got put on hold" for another year, McClain said, referring to a bill to extend subsidies to the utility to keep two nuclear power plants in the state operating.
He kept his retirement plan secret until it was revealed Friday by Rich Miller in the Illinois political newsletter and blog Capital Fax. The announcement caught many by surprise.
"He was extremely successful and really, really will be missed," said state Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville.
Former state Rep. Art Tenhouse, R-Liberty, said McClain worked behind the scenes and could "cross over the partisan divide" on almost every issue that came up in the Legislature.
"Most people don't realize what an advocate he's been for Western Illinois and how many things he's gotten accomplished for this region," Tenhouse said.
One success was an exhibition hall bill that McClain got passed in the 1980s that provided some grant money for new civic centers in several Illinois communities, including Quincy.
The only fee McClain requested for his work on behalf of the city of Quincy was naming rights for an exhibition hall in the Oakley-Lindsay Center to honor his late father, Elmo "Mac" McClain.
McClain deflected the praise.
"If you love your area and your region, you end up advocating for things that are good for the community," he said.
McClain, a Democrat, was first appointed to the Illinois House in 1972 after the death of his father. He won re-election four times and then was unexpectedly defeated in 1982 by Jeff Mays, a Quincy Republican. It was the first election after the Cutback Amendment eliminated multi-seat legislative districts.
During his time in the House, McClain became a close friend of Madigan's, a Chicago Democrat and fellow legislator who became speaker in 1983 and has held that title for all but two years since. The two have remained close, both professionally and personally.
Wrote Miller on Friday:
"McClain has been a vitally important sounding board and strategist for the Speaker. He's never been afraid to clash head-on with other members of Madigan's inner circle when he's believed they've given his guy the wrong advice. McClain also participated in Madigan's conference calls every Sunday during campaign seasons, including this past one.
"The extent of his influence with Madigan probably can't be overstated and will likely never be known. Neither man is the type to write tell-all autobiographies. Madigan doesn't always take McClain's advice, of course, but, like pretty much everyone who comes into contact with McClain, he most definitely always listens to him and respects him and, perhaps most importantly, trusts him.
"He's also been a valued private conduit to members of Team Rauner, who may not love Madigan, but can always talk to McClain."
On Friday, McClain said "a Springfield old-timer" told him early in his career as a lobbyist that with his connections, McClain could make a lot of money and retire in five years, or make a more modest living compared with other people and keep lobbying for a long time, while keeping his reputation intact.
"I chose the latter," McClain said.
Madigan lauded his friend on Friday.
"(McClain) had an outstanding career as a legislator and a lobbyist, operating with complete honesty and integrity. He should be seen locally as a great credit to Quincy and Adams County," Madigan said.
Steve Brown, Madigan's spokesman, said McClain had a knack for helping find solutions to problems.
"For instance, a problem in Chicago was probably occurring in downstate cities and a program that helped one could be adjusted to help the other," Brown said.
"Hence something that might be viewed as 'Chicago bailout' could be applied statewide and become less toxic."
McClain said lobbyists need to be nimble and creative.
"You don't want to violate the mission for the client, but you want to find a pathway that comports with the mission and leads to success," McClain said.
Sullivan said McClain's success as a lobbyist was in large part attributable to his understanding of what it meant to be a legislator.
"He realized how diverse the state is and was able to understand where they were coming from and some of the challenges they were facing," Sullivan said.
"He was never adversarial, he was always low-key, and that's why he was the most trusted and respected lobbyist in Springfield."
McClain said he and his wife will probably just "sit and catch our breath" for a while. While he has been lobbying, Cinda has been an attorney and active on the boards of several educational institutions while also working with the Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce.
He said that although the couple may eventually travel, they don't want to exchange 14- and 16-hour workdays with travel days of the same length just yet.
The Quincy Catholic Elementary Schools Foundation in February honored the late "Mac" McClain, Marge McClain and their children at the 2016 Friend of Catholic Education Award dinner.
In addition, Mike McClain received the 2011 Distinguished Citizen Award from the Mississippi Valley Council 141 Boy Scouts of America.