Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) on Sunday used his remaining political power to install a 26-year-old political protege to the House seat he resigned from last week after more than 50 years.
In his capacity as Chicago’s 13th Ward Committeeman, Madigan used his weighted vote to select Edward Guerra Kodatt to replace him in the 22nd District House seat representing the city’s southwest side. Madigan had been pressed by the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus to select a Latinx candidate, as the 22nd District is overwhelmingly Latino. Kodatt is of Ecuadorian descent.
“While I never imagined having such big shoes to fill, I’ve known for most of my life that I wanted to dedicate my life to public service,” Kodatt told Madigan and the other committeepeople Sunday morning during his presentation at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture — where Madigan and his hand-picked 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn have office space.
Kodatt has worked with the Madigan-Quinn office for nearly four years, beginning after his graduation from Eastern Illinois University in 2017. A product of St. Rita of Cascia High School, Kodatt told the panel he recently bought a home in Garfield Ridge and planned to stay in the 22nd District to raise a family.
Kodatt highlighted his constituent service work for the 13th Ward, saying he’s known around the neighborhood as simply “Ed,” and had been invited into many homes for coffee and cake. He also has worked on competitive legislative campaigns for Democrats, including State Reps. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) and Sen. Karina Villa (D-West Chicago).
After delivering a polished introduction to the panel, Kodatt struggled with questions from State Rep. Aarón Ortiz (D-Chicago), in his capacity as 14th Ward committeeman, and Ald. Silvana Tabares (23) in her capacity as 23rd Ward committeewoman.
Ortiz, the chair of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus, asked each of the 10 candidates if they would support the caucus’ agenda and if they would have voted yes for the sweeping criminal justice reform bill Gov. JB Pritzker is set to sign Monday. The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus pushed for the bill during lawmakers’ Lame Duck session in January, which will make Illinois the first state in the U.S. to end cash bail.
“I couldn’t give you an answer on it at the moment,” Kodatt said. “I'd want to make an educated answer so I would like to sit down and read the entire thing.”
Kodatt had earlier highlighted his mother’s, father’s and stepfather’s long tenures in the Chicago Police Department and said he supports police.
“But I also don't support police malpractice either, so there's there needs to be a good area in the middle where both sides can come in and we can all agree on what happens when certain things happen in the community regarding incidents with the police," Kodatt told the panel.
Asked by Tabares about his priorities in Springfield, Kodatt struggled again when she asked him the top issue facing the 22nd District, defaulting to an earlier answer about continuing to provide the level of constituent services Madigan and Quinn had built up in the 13th Ward and surrounding area.
With his votes, Ortiz instead nominated Silvia Villa, an associate dean of adult education at Richard J. Daley College, who has done extensive work in state welcoming centers for immigrants. Afterward, Ortiz told NPR Illinois he was struck that Kodatt didn't "commit right away" to supporting the Latino Caucus' agenda, but said he was looking forward to getting to know the new representative and working with him in the caucus.
Tabares nominated Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, who works with local nonprofits on health disparities and food insecurity.
But Madigan’s weighted votes far outstripped those of Ortiz and Tabares. When Madigan asked Tabares — herself Madigan’s handpicked choice to replace an ally in Chicago City Council in 2018 after quietly serving in the legislature for five years — to switch her votes to make Kodatt’s appointment unanimous, Tabares declined.
Asked about the apparent Madigan defection, the former speaker told reporters Tabares was her own person.
Madigan said the same of Kodatt, despite accusations from the progressive Coalition for Change IL3, which characterized Kodatt as “blissfully unqualified” for the House seat and said “Madigan’s fix was in” in a statement after the appointment. The group claimed it had pressured the appointment process to be live-streamed for all to see.
“I think the Mr. Kodatt will stand on his own merits,” Madigan said. “He spoke to his background. He spoke to his aspirations for service in the General Assembly. And I'm sure he'll be judged on his actions.”
Madigan’s remarks were the first to reporters since July — two days before federal prosecutors revealed Madigan as “Public Official A” in an alleged years-long bribery scheme orchestrated by electric utility Commonwealth Edison. Since then, one former ComEd executive has pleaded guilty, and four more former executives and lobbyists have pleaded not guilty to the scheme, including Madigan’s close friend and confidant Mike McClain.
Madigan steadily lost key support for his re-election to a historic 19th term as House Speaker during the fall, culminating in Madigan suspending his campaign for the role and passing the gavel to new Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) last month.
Kodatt swatted off a question about those who may consider his appointment tainted by Madigan’s influence.
“I believe in an open, transparent process, and that’s what I think this was,” Kodatt told reporters after he was sworn in Sunday. “I’m obviously new to the process myself so, you know, I can’t touch on it too much being so new to it. But I think they did a good job of including everyone and being pretty transparent.”
Kodatt said he admired Madigan’s commitment to constituent service. Madigan had opened the meeting waxing poetic about his mantra to serve “ordinary working people” who populate the 22nd District, who he said just want to “get a decent job, make a mortgage payment,” and maybe provide a higher education for their children. The former speaker said he hoped his predecessor would “follow the same approach.”
Asked by reporters what he admired about Madigan, Kodatt said he learned from working in the 13th Ward that it’s important to be responsive to constituents.
“Everyone who calls us this office, we have an answer for,” Kodatt said. “We’re providing service for them right away. Being able to just build on how good they run their operation already here is just going to be helpful for me in the future.”
Though now retired from the House, Madigan isn’t giving up his other titles just yet. It was his 13th Ward Committeeman title — which he’s held since 1969 — that empowered him to choose Kodatt as a replacement Sunday. And Madigan said he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll abandon his role as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, a job he’s held since 1998.
“I don’t feel a need to step down,” Madigan told reporters.
Other top Illinois Democrats feel differently, including U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and Gov. JB Pritzker, who called on Madigan to resign from the party after a disappointing Election Day for Democrats. They blamed Madigan’s growing toxicity for failures up and down the ballot, including Pritzker’s signature graduated income tax plan, which opponents were able to tie to Madigan, calling him and Pritzker “corrupt” politicians not to be trusted with extra tax revenue.
Madigan said he had “no idea” when he may step down, and promised to be “an active Democrat in whatever role is available to me.” But Madigan said he doesn’t have plans to get involved in the once-in-a-decade legislative re-districting process set to play out later this year.
Asked if he had stayed too long in politics, Madigan said he didn’t think so.
“Others may disagree,” he told reporters.
One of those in the disagreement camp is Larry Rivkin, a Wheeling resident who drove to Sunday’s meeting in West Lawn dressed in a T-shirt emblazoned with Madigan’s face wearing a crown — a product from the libertarian-leaning Illinois Policy Institute, which launched a full-length feature documentary film about Madigan in 2016.
Read more: Citizens United Meets Madigan, The Movie
After Kodatt was selected, Rivkin ventured further south on Pulaski Road to Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria, a well-known stop for tavern-style pizza on the city’s southwest side. After sampling a sausage pizza, Rivkin told NPR Illinois he didn’t think Madigan leaving the legislature meant it was a new day in Illinois — at least not yet.
“Not in the near term,” Rivkin said. “This meeting’s an example of that: He’s picking his predecessor. The voters don’t have a choice…he hand picks his own people.”
Rivkin, a native of Chicago’s southeast side, said he had been a lifelong Democrat until 2014, when he voted for Republican Bruce Rauner for governor. In his lengthy resignation statement Thursday, Madigan listed stonewalling Rauner’s union-weakening agenda as a major accomplishment. Rauner reportedly told a Chicago TV reporter Madigan’s resignation was “one of the best birthday presents” he’d ever had.
“I [voted for Rauner] knowing he would be blocked at every turn,” Rivkin said. “And that was the case…He didn’t have a chance to get anything done. He was shut down at the very beginning.”
Rivkin said he especially didn’t like it when in the summer of 2013, Madigan apparently declined to step aside so his daughter, then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan, could run for governor.
“He blew her off, just like he blows off everybody else,” Rivkin said. “What he represents is tremendous power. And it’s the Chicago Way. It exists today and the Democratic Party and the Mike Madigan of the world are prime examples of the Chicago Way: Do what they tell you to do, shut the hell up, get out of the way or we will crush you.”