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Eight almost enough? Endorsements make Ald. Harris clear frontrunner in race to lead state Democratic Party

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) received eight endorsements Thursday, bringing her nearly two-thirds of the vote needed to succeed Mike Madigan as party chair.

Ald. Michelle Harris during a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016.
Ald. Michelle Harris during a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016.
Brian Jackson/ For the Sun-Times file

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) moved closer to grabbing the reins of the Democratic Party of Illinois on Thursday, securing eight key endorsements that give her nearly two-thirds of the vote needed to succeed Mike Madigan as chair of the party.

Harris, City Council floor leader for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, would be the first woman and first person of color to hold the state’s top Democratic Party position — as would either of the other two women in the running.

But on Thursday, the momentum was with Harris, 59.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush threw his support behind the 15-year alderman. The two represent the South Side and suburban 1st Congressional District on the Democratic State Central Committee, the official name for the group that will choose the party chair.

Other committee members supporting Harris are former state Senate President John Cullerton and Cynthia Santos, who represent the Northwest Side and suburban 5th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis and interim state party chair Karen Yarbrough of the Chicago and suburban 7th Congressional District. In southern Illinois, backers include 12th Congressional District committeepersons Jerry Costello and Kathy West and Brandon Phelps, the 15th Congressional District committeeperson.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush looks at Ald. Michelle Harris’ (8th) phone before a news conference last week.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush looks at Ald. Michelle Harris’ (8th) phone before a news conference in the Bronzeville neighborhood last week.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Assuming Harris votes for herself, the slate of endorsements mean Harris has 860,451 of the 1,349,418 votes needed to ascend to the position — or 63.8% of the total required.

Yarbrough, Cook County clerk, said Thursday she has not yet set a meeting date for the vote.

Late Thursday, Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), who represents the 3rd Congressional District along with Madigan, joined other committeepersons calling for an open meeting on March 6 “to consider the matter of an election of the Chair of the Democratic State Central Committee.”

Tabares has not decided whom she will back for the position.

In a statement, Harris said she’s “honored” to be endorsed by the “regionally diverse group” of central committeepersons.

“My reason for running to become Chair is because I want to build a party that works for every Democrat in all 102 counties, and the ideas and activism of all my colleagues on the State Central Committee will help me ensure we hit the ground running to accomplish that goal,” Harris’ statement reads in part.

Missing from the list of endorsements is Madigan, whose Monday resignation from the party leadership position he was first elected to in 1998 kicked off the scramble to replace him.

Madigan walked away as a reporter was asking him whom he planned to support Thursday after a meeting to choose the successor for his Illinois House seat. A Madigan spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment.

Along with the eight central committeepersons, Harris also received the endorsements of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth. The two announced their support for the alderman shortly after Madigan resigned from the party post. Pritzker and Duckworth are not members of the central committee, so they have no votes in the matter, but as two of the state’s highest ranking Democratic elected officials, they have the ability to influence those who do.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, left, last year; U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, right, in 2016.
State Sen. Cristina Castro, left, last year; U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, right, in 2016.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Harris’ competitors for the position have received their own endorsements, though they trail behind the South Side alderman in vote totals.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who announced her candidacy the day Madigan stepped down, is backed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Kelly also won endorsement of U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who is also the former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and U.S. Rep. Marie Newman. Durbin, Bustos and Newman are not members of the central committee.

Fourth Congressional District Committeeperson Iris Martinez, who is also the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County; Kate Jennings, who represents the 17th Congressional District, and Bill Houlihan, Durbin’s state director and the 18th Congressional District’s committeeperson, are also supporting Kelly.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, who also represents the 8th Congressional District on the central committee, was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a committeeperson from the 4th Congressional District.