Democratic Party of Illinois chair Kelly faces rival recruited by Pritzker team, state House speaker

State. Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, told the Sun-Times Friday she is seeking to oust U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., as the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

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The Democratic Party of Illinois Chair, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., seeking a second term, is being challenged by state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, running after consulting with two top advisors to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON - State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, told the Sun-Times on Friday she is seeking to oust U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., as the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois when state central committee members vote July 30.

And she launched her run after being recruited by top advisers to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch.

Hernandez, just elected to the state central committee June 28, is making the move to dump Kelly - who earlier announced she is seeking a second term - at a time when a messy change at the top of the party could jeopardize two pending giant matters before the Democratic National Committee: bids to make Illinois an early primary state and for Chicago to host the 2024 Democratic convention.

The 34 members of the state central committee - Kelly is one of them - will elect one of their own to be chair when they meet in Springfield July 30.

Pritzker, through his campaign committee, donated at least $350,000 to candidates running for the state central committee. Kelly and her ally, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., combined sent $63,500 to candidates.

“I’ve thrown my hat in the ring,” Hernandez told the Sun-Times. “We’ll see where it goes.”

She said Pritzker chief of staff Anne Caprara and Pritzker campaign manager Mike Ollen “reached out, maybe sometime last week.”

Illinois Speaker Welch, D-Hillside was also part of the recruitment effort. A Welch spokesperson told the Sun-Times, “The speaker supports all of his members in their effort to uplift Illinois.”

Hernandez is on Welch’s leadership team.

DPI Deputy Director Jake Lewis told the Sun-Times, “Since she was elected last year as the first Black woman to chair the Democratic Party of Illinois, Robin Kelly has been relentlessly focused on building a party that listens to and serves all Democrats at all levels across Illinois.

“While there is certainly more work to do, the party has made significant progress under Chair Kelly, becoming more inclusive, more transparent and more effective in our mission to support Democratic candidates and campaigns.

“Right now, with our fundamental rights under attack by right-wing extremists, the DPI’s focus is on defeating Republicans and delivering for the people of Illinois. We strongly encourage all Democrats to maintain that focus as well,” Lewis said.

The intra-party fight is breaking out into the open days before Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison - who is close to Kelly - arrives in Chicago on Monday to headline a fundraiser with Kelly to benefit the state party and hold a roundtable with Kelly and labor leaders at the Chicago Federation of Labor.

And this will be interesting - Harrison on Tuesday joins the DNC’s convention site selection team visit. Pritzker, Kelly and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will appear together at a Tuesday press conference with Harrison to pitch the city’s convention bid.

The DNC site selection team — called the Technical Advisory Group - hits Chicago for tours of the United Center and other proposed venues, and to see other city attractions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Houston are competing for the convention.

Meanwhile, the DNC is set to vote on whether Illinois will be one of the lead-off presidetial primary states on Aug. 2 - days as the state party chair vote.

Kelly was elected party chair March 2, 2021. Backed by Durbin, she beat Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), supported by Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., 51.7% to 48.3%.

The Pritzker team — in 2021 and now — objects to Kelly as chair because, as a federally elected official, she is subject to strict fundraising rules and contribution caps that restrict her ability to raise and spend funds for non-federal candidates.

Kelly’s allies devised — using Federal Election Commission legal guidance — ways for Kelly to function as state chair while avoiding legal problems over fundraising.

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