SPRINGFIELD — For the second day in a row, the race to hold the gavel that House Speaker Mike Madigan has gripped for nearly four decades lost a candidate.
But it also gained a new one.
The candidate who opted out was a crucial one — Madigan himself.
The legislator newly joining the race is a Madigan ally who has the support of the Black Caucus.
Monday morning, Madigan announced he was suspending his campaign.
But the powerful Southwest Side Democrat took pains to assure members of his caucus that he was not dropping out of the race.
“This is not a withdrawal,” Madigan said in terse statement issued Monday morning. “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,” Madigan said. “The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”
Late Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times learned that the Black Caucus had chosen state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, as its candidate for speaker. A source within the caucus said Welch would have Madigan’s backing.
But Madigan’s spokesman denied that.
Reached for comment, Steve Brown said the veteran speaker isn’t “taking any position on any of the candidates who’ve either been announced or whose names have been mentioned in the media.”
The stunning series of moves came a day after Madigan fell nine votes short of receiving the 60 needed to secure another term.
Members of the House Democratic caucus had planned a second vote for the leadership post Monday night. But that second round of balloting was postponed, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Despite the impasse, Gov. J.B. Pritzker showed no signs of trying to intervene or broker a deal for a compromise candidate.
“Choosing the speaker is the sole responsibility of those members” in the House, the governor said Monday at his daily coronavirus briefing, hours after Madigan suspended his campaign.
In Sunday’s closed caucus meeting, 51 House Democrats voted for Madigan to remain speaker, a position he has held longer than any other statehouse speaker in U.S. history.
To remain speaker, Madigan needs 60 votes. Though he was shy of that magic number, he was the closest in that first round.
State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, received 18 votes, according to sources in the room. Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, who was the first to announce a bid against Madigan back in October, received three votes.
Democratic Caucus Chair Kathleen Willis dropped out of the race Sunday and threw her support to Williams, sources told the Sun-Times.
With state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, voting present on Sunday, 22 House Democrats have bolted from Madigan. That’s three more than the group of 19 who had previously announced their opposition to his bid for another term.
And those 19 said Sunday they weren’t wavering from their position to not vote for him.
If Welch does have Madigan’s backing, he would be a likely frontrunner, although the Hillside Democrat would still need to win over more than the 51 legislators who made up the loyal Madigan bloc.
Pressed by reporters on Monday, Pritzker said “the last time I spoke with the speaker was a couple of days ago about the decoupling bill,” referring to a measure to disconnect a section of the state tax code from federal tax laws.
“So that’s the last conversation that we had, but I’ll work with whoever gets elected speaker and again as I have with the minority leader in the House and the Senate president and the minority,” the Democratic governor said.
Asked if he asked Madigan to resign as speaker when they last spoke, Pritzker said, “No. I was in a conversation about getting things done. He is still the speaker.”
Madigan, 78, who is also chair of the Illinois Democratic Party, has been battered by the ongoing federal investigation of the ComEd influence-buying scandal in Springfield. Madigan has been implicated but not charged in the investigation.
Madigan has denied any wrongdoing and has previously said he planned to seek another term and enjoyed “support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members.”
But the federal probe had increasingly complicated his path to another term as speaker, a position he’s held for all but two years since 1983 — longer than any other statehouse speaker in the nation.
ComEd is accused of sending $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility. Four allies of the speaker — including longtime confidant Michael McClain — were indicted in November.