Embattled House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) stunned Illinois’ political sphere on Monday morning, announcing he would suspended his campaign for a historic 19th term as leader of the Illinois House after falling short on the support he needs in a first round vote Sunday night.
But allies of the longest-serving House Speaker in the nation are making it clear they're still standing behind Madigan, despite his campaign suspension.
"I’m with Madigan until I hear from him that he is withdrawing his candidacy to be the Speaker of the House," State Rep. André Thapedi said Monday, repeating his loyalty three times.
Madigan, who has been House Speaker for all but two years since 1983, only received 51 votes from the House Democratic Caucus in a private meeting Sunday night — the first of a series to determine who among Madigan and three challengers has the support to be elected speaker Wednesday when the new General Assembly is sworn in.
But on Monday, Madigan insisted his campaign suspension is “not a withdrawal.”
“As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first,” Madigan said in a statement.
A winner needs 60 votes, and while Madigan fell short, his next-closest competitor, State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) fell much shorter, garnering 18 votes. State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) received three votes. A third challenger, State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison), a member of Madigan’s leadership team who shocked colleagues last month by saying she couldn’t support Madigan’s bid for speakership, dropped out of the race in the middle of caucus Sunday night.
Willis on Monday told NPR Illinois she felt Madigan's refusal to withdraw from the Speaker's race is not leadership.
“I think leadership is to make a decision and that’s why I did what I did, putting my support behind Representative Williams," Willis said. "I think that was for the good of the caucus to be able to do that…And I would love to see a woman in that chair. That’s one of the reasons that I ran.”
Now that the caucus faces a political conundrum, Madigan issued a dare to his members:
“The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker,” Madigan said in his statement.
State Rep. Marty Moylan (D-Des Plaines) said there's no path forward for Williams.
“Ann Williams doesn’t have a cross-section of the state backing her,” Moylan told NPR Illinois. “There’s no people who look like me — male moderates — she has one Black male, that’s surely not representative of the state, one Hispanic female, there’s no male hispanics, also there’s nobody from downstate…So how is she going to appeal to the rest of us?”
Asked if he thought Madigan’s play on Monday was a display of leadership, Moylan said others from the caucus are free to announce their candidacy to see if they can get to 60 votes.
“If somebody out there can get 60 votes, then fine, let’s go,” Moylan said. “And we’ll see if they can actually get our support.”
Thapedi, a member of the House's Black Caucus, said he likely wouldn't look kindly on any candidate for House Speaker who comes forward now that Madigan suspended his campaign, calling them "opportunists."
“I just don’t see anyone in that room of the 118 people that are in that room — Type A personalities — who can get that job done, other than Mike Madigan,” Thapedi said. “I just don’t see who that is.”
The Black Caucus is united in its support of Madigan except for one freshman member, State Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford). Black Caucus members are also hoping to get their massive equity-focused legislative agenda through before Wednesday morning, and told reporters Sunday night they’re depending on Madigan to draw new legislative districts this year that protect Black voters.
With House members facing the Wednesday noon deadline to select the Speaker, Democrats are put in a tight political spot. House Rules stipulate that no legislative business can be considered until a speaker is elected, setting up days or possibly weeks of stalemate as the state faces historic crises in the COVID-19 pandemic and a $4 billion budget hole.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday declined to address what may happen if Democratic infighting means missing that Wednesday deadline, but acknowledged lawmakers and the governor's office "[have] got a lot of work that we need to get done."
"As I have said many times, I will work with whoever the members of the House of Representatives elect as their speaker," Pritzker said in an unrelated news conference. "Choosing the speaker is the sole responsibility of those representatives, and it is clear that the members are taking their choices seriously."
Madigan suspending his campaign — but not withdrawing — could indicate he’s willing to let his caucus descend into chaos before they realize he’s the only one for the job. But with 19 House Democrats dug into their positions, and another three emerging against Madigan on Sunday night, reversing course for that largely white female bloc of legislators may be impossible.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), one of Madigan's most vocal critics, is reportedly mulling a run for speaker herself. Cassidy on Monday didn't criticize Madigan for merely suspending but not withdrawing from the campaign, casting the development as an "opportunity" for unity.
“This news came as a shock to a lot of the caucus, so I expect the race will change dramatically as a result," Cassidy said. "This is a time to hear what all of our colleagues have to say about their visions for a new leadership team. I have nothing to announce right now, but will keep everyone apprised if that should change.”
Madigan has steadily lost support from his colleagues in the House — and other high-profile Illinois Democrats — since July, when federal prosecutors named him “Public Official A” in a deferred prosecution agreement filed against electric utility Commonwealth Edison, laying out a years-long bribery scheme carried out by ComEd to curry favor with Madigan.
Madigan has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged. But pressure has mounted throughout the fall as more details about the alleged scheme have come to light in the form of indictments against longtime Madigan confidant Mike McClain — a former ComEd lobbyist — and two other lobbyists for the utility, plus the ex-CEO of ComEd’s parent company in November, all connected with the scheme. A former ComEd VP also pleaded guilty to the scheme in September.
The night before Thanksgiving, a House Special Investigating Committee that was supposed to be probing whether Madigan committed any acts “unbecoming of a legislator” to determine possible censure, hundreds of emails between McClain, the other actors and Madigan proxies were made available in a data dump. The new information further solidified opposition to Madigan, and Willis became the 19th House member to publicly say she could no longer support the Speaker.