A “present” vote on a measure to expand abortion coverage in Illinois may cost an Orthodox rabbi — freshman state Rep. Yehiel “Mark” Kalish — his seat in the state House.
That’s if the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and other abortion rights supporters have their way. Cassidy, alongside activists and elected officials such as Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner Debra Shore, is planning a “Kalish Lied To Us” news conference on Wednesday morning in Chicago.
The group says Kalish said he’d vote in favor of the bill as part of a requirement of his appointment to the seat. Kalish is the first ordained rabbi to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.
Kalish was chosen by Democratic committeepersons in the 16th District to replace state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, the former deputy majority leader who resigned in January 2019 — months after he was cleared of harassment allegations by the state’s acting legislative inspector general.
At issue is Kalish’s “present” vote on May 28. In response to abortion bans in other states and to codify current practices should Roe v. Wade be overturned, the Illinois House approved an expansive abortion bill sponsors said would strengthen the state’s current laws. The measure cleared the state House on a 64-50 vote. Six Democrats voted no, and four others voted present during an emotional and lengthy debate. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measure into law in June.
But Cassidy isn’t going after any of the other Democrats who either voted no or present. She said she’s singling Kalish out because he’s the only Democrat who changed his vote after making a promise to vote for it.
Cassidy says Kalish told her on the morning of May 28 that he would not be supporting her bill after previously making a commitment to do so. Cassidy also said Kalish spoke to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to tell him of his planned “present” vote and even offered up his resignation over it.
“It was presented as a make or break. This is non-negotiable, and so he made this commitment,” Cassidy said of talks with Kalish about the abortion measure before he was appointed to the seat.
“It was made very clear that this district demanded someone who was unapologetically pro-choice, and he’s not,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy said she told Kalish, whom she considered to be a friend, ‘“I think you’re throwing your career away because broken promises are fatal.’”
Kalish, however, says he was not given the exact language of the measure when he made a commitment to be “pro-choice.” At issue is language in the bill that states that a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have independent rights.
“They asked if I would be pro-choice,” Kalish said on Tuesday. “The answer is yes. They didn’t put this information in front of me and say, ‘Would you vote on that bill?’”
Knocking on doors in Skokie, Kalish said he’s not concerned that the vote will cost him his seat.
“No,” Kalish said. “The vote is what it is.”
Kalish, however, said he is being asked about the abortion bill by his constituents.
“Some people are upset ... but they’re also getting a lot of misinformation, as you can imagine,” Kalish said. “The proponents of this are on a strong misinformation campaign. It has an impact, but when I go to door-to-door, and I speak about the bill, people don’t even realize it passed.”
Lang, who serves as a committeeperson for the Niles Township Democratic Organization, has endorsed Denyse Wang Stoneback over Kalish because of the vote. Cassidy plans to also endorse Stoneback at the Wednesday press conference. Kevin Olickal is also vying for the seat.