CHICAGO — Scandal-plagued Speaker Michael Madigan on Monday suspended his bid to keep running the Illinois House, even as he left open the possibility he could reemerge if Democrats can’t agree on a replacement.
The move was politically calculated, an aide privately acknowledged, as Madigan plays a waiting game.
The state has several important issues to resolve, and the new House that gets sworn in Wednesday can’t tackle any of them until a speaker is elected. The longer that process drags on, the greater the pressure on anti-Madigan lawmakers to compromise — which could allow the speaker, a politician known for brokering deals, to recapture the gavel.
The move amounts to a dare by Madigan to any of the other 72 House Democrats to try to cobble together a coalition to oust him, a tall task given the breadth of diversity of the caucus. It’ll take 60 votes to elect a House speaker, and Madigan had 51 during a closed-door vote on Sunday, with the next-closest contender, Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago, getting 18 votes.
Madigan’s announcement that he was suspending his bid threw the door open to other potential speaker candidates, including members of two highly influential groups among the House Democratic contingent — the House Black Caucus and the House Latino Caucus. Previously, all but one of the 22-member Black Caucus and as many as 10 of the 14-member Latino Caucus had backed Madigan for reelection.
Almost immediately, two names surfaced that had long been mentioned as potential contenders if Madigan failed in trying to get 60 votes: eight-year state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside and state Rep. Jay Hoffman of Swansea, who has served for 27 years.
Welch, a Madigan ally, is a member of the Black Caucus, chairs the powerful House Executive Committee and chaired a special investigating panel to look into Madigan that adjourned with no action.
Hoffman, a member of Madigan’s leadership team, had a previous falling out with the speaker when the lawmaker served as a floor leader for disgraced and formerly imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Hoffman, an attorney, was said to have support as a backstop from civil attorneys who have long been top fundraising allies for Madigan, as well as from some trade unions, though organized labor in general remains solidly behind the current speaker.
Hoffman also has become one of the few downstate Democrats in a shrinking regional caucus as Republicans have become the predominant party in central and Southern Illinois.
Already in the running is Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, who got two votes Sunday.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, who has been critical of Madigan’s past handling of sexual harassment issues in his government role as speaker and political role as state Democratic chairman, said she expected “the race will change dramatically as a result” of Madigan’s move.
But she added, “I have nothing to announce right now” and said she wanted to “hear what all of our colleagues have to say about their visions for a new leadership team.”
Cassidy was the lone “present” vote in Sunday’s closed-door meeting. She said she didn’t vote for any of the declared candidates because “it’s clear we’re not at the full slate yet” but she wanted to honor all the women who publicly challenged Madigan.
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker had no comment on Madigan’s announcement and steered clear publicly from the speaker selection process. Pritzker was stung when anti-Madigan sentiment became a factor in voter rejection last fall of his proposed graduated-rate income tax constitutional amendment.
“I will work with whoever the members of the House of Representatives elect as their speaker,” Pritzker said during a news conference at his Capitol office. “Choosing the speaker is the sole responsibility of those representatives, and it is clear that the members are taking their choices seriously.”
Madigan is under increasing pressure from the Black Caucus to deliver on a multipronged package that includes controversial changes in policing, including restrictions on collective bargaining rights over discipline that are opposed by more moderate members.
In backing Madigan, the Black Caucus had said it believed it was “in a more advantageous position under the leadership of Speaker Madigan to deliver on our priorities.”
The sensitivity to the Black Caucus agenda was reflected Monday afternoon when action in the House ground to a halt after Democratic Rep. Rita Mayfield of Waukegan objected to a pending floor vote on a bill that would allow delivery services such as DoorDash and Grubhub to deliver alcohol.
Mayfield, a member of the Black Caucus, questioned why the measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Zalewski of Riverside, a fellow Democrat, was being called for a vote before the House took up any pieces of the Black Caucus’ sweeping social justice agenda.
“I myself am not prepared to vote on any bill that is not part of the Black Caucus agenda until we at least get those bills on the floor,” Mayfield said.
The vote on Zalewski’s bill was called off, and the Black Caucus met privately for several hours.
House Democrats were meeting behind closed doors again Monday evening, with the discussion focused on the Black Caucus’ criminal justice legislation. Lawmakers also were preparing for a possible final vote on the education package approved earlier Monday in the Senate.
Known as a politician of few public words, Madigan announced he was suspending his campaign in a four-sentence statement: “This is not a withdrawal. I have suspended my campaign for speaker. 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. The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for speaker.”
Madigan began to see some of his support peel away this summer after he was implicated in a bribery scheme involving Commonwealth Edison. In July, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and acknowledged its role in the scheme aimed at currying favor with Madigan by offering jobs and contracts to his allies in exchange for favorable legislation.
Since then, Madigan’s longtime top confidant, former lawmaker and lobbyist Michael McClain of Quincy, was indicted along with three others, including former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, of participating in the alleged influence and bribery scheme. All four have pleaded not guilty.