Democratic Party of Illinois chair race down to Michelle Harris, Robin Kelly: Vote on Wednesday

The tallies from both camps show Harris ahead. However, there are enough state central committee members who have not gone public to swing the outcome either way.

SHARE Democratic Party of Illinois chair race down to Michelle Harris, Robin Kelly: Vote on Wednesday

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., are in a contest to chair the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Sun-Times files

WASHINGTON — The race for Democratic Party of Illinois chair turned into a two-woman showdown Sunday, with state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, dropping her bid and throwing her support to Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.

The contest is now between Kelly and Ald. Michelle Harris (8th).

The Sun-Times has learned the vote will be held during a virtual meeting of the state central committee members at 6 p.m. Chicago time on Wednesday.

According to a notice sent to members on Sunday night by party executive director Mary Morrissey, “the meeting will also be livestreamed so that Democrats across the state can be present for the meeting.”

Kelly’s biggest backer is Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Harris is running with the support of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who will lead the 2022 statewide ticket.

The chair is picked by a vote of the 36 state central committee members, one man and one woman from each of the 18 congressional districts in Illinois. Neither Pritzker, Durbin nor Duckworth are among the 36. The vote is “weighted,” that is based on the number of Democratic votes cast in each district in the March 2020 Illinois primary.

The tallies from both camps, based on the public statements from state central committee members, show Harris ahead but short of the 50% plus one needed. As behind-the-scenes lobbying grows more intense, there are enough members — about a third — who have not gone public to swing the outcome either way.

In Sunday developments:

  • Castro’s biggest backer, Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., announced he would support Kelly as will as Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd).

The three said in a statement, “When we shared our positions for our party platform, Robin not only listened, but embraced our ideas and cited examples where she’s led on those very same issues. We are proud to back Congresswoman Robin Kelly to be our next Party Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”

  • Scandalized Mike Madigan, who vacated the party chair creating the opening, came out for Harris. Harris also won the backing of state central committeewoman Jayne Mazzotti.

Madigan is also the former state House Speaker, ex-House member and current 13th Ward Democratic Committeeman. Madigan’s resignation on Feb. 22 started a 30-day clock to vote for a new chair.

On Friday, at a news conference to announce the construction of a mass vaccine site at the United Center, Durbin and Pritzker were asked about their differences over who should be party chair.

Billionaire Pritzker, who poured millions of his own dollars into his 2018 election, said he was a good Democrat and would be a donor to the state party no matter who won the chair.

Durbin said all three rivals — on Friday Castro was still in the race — were “excellent” and would be effective party leaders.

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