Rep. Robin Kelly, new Democratic Party of Illinois chair, names Abby Witt next executive director

Kelly said she has seven transition groups at work, and wants to establish internships and fellows programs to “get younger people involved.”

SHARE Rep. Robin Kelly, new Democratic Party of Illinois chair, names Abby Witt next executive director
Abby Witt, the new executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Abby Witt, the new executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Provided

WASHINGTON — Rep. Robin Kelly, in her first major personnel move as the new Democratic Party of Illinois chair, hired Abby Witt to be the next executive director, bringing on a veteran political operative with deep ties to progressive Democrats and a lot of organizing experience.

Kelly said in a joint interview with Witt that she is an “organizer and organization builder,” has “a wealth of experience” and is “someone that I can really count on.”

“I’ve built organizations from the ground up,” Witt said.

Kelly highlighted Witt’s experience in working with Democratic elected officials, candidates, donors, stakeholders and grass-roots activists.

Witt worked on both of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, was an associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs — the shop led by Valerie Jarrett — and was the campaign manager for Dan Biss, now the Evanston mayor-elect, when he ran for governor in 2018.

Raised in Evanston and now a Chicago resident, Witt, a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., has extensive involvement in training candidates and grass-roots campaign workers.

She was a director at Obama’s political organization, Organizing for Action, and just stepped down as a partner at Arena, a D.C.-based political firm that trains “the next generation of candidates and campaign staff,” its website says. U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., worked with Arena when she first ran in 2018 and pulled off an upset win.

Kelly was elected DPI chair in March after state Rep. Mike Madigan resigned, forced to let go of the iron grip on the party he had held since 1998. Madigan was also dumped as state House speaker in the wake of the Commonwealth Edison scandal. He has not been criminally charged and has denied wrongdoing.

Witt will work during a transition period with current executive director Mary Morrissey.

Starting in 2018, then state Rep. Christian Mitchell - now a deputy governor - followed by Morrissey - jumped in and kept the DPI running after a sexual harassment scandal forced the ouster of Madigan sidekick Tim Mapes as party executive director.

Madigan, and by extension, Mapes, ran the DPI as a closed club and not as an inclusive party operation.

Once Mitchell, followed by Morrissey were on board, the organization began to function more like a state party and not solely as a Madigan branch office.

Making the DPI more inclusive is a top Kelly priority as she starts to put her stamp on the party.

Kelly said she has seven transition groups at work, looking at “bylaws, programs and training” putting together events and establishing internships and fellows programs to “get younger people involved.”

Madigan also declined to participate, as state chairs routinely do, in Democratic National Committee functions, something that Kelly will be doing.

This month, Kelly asked the Federal Election Commission for guidance as to whether she has the authority to be in charge of the state party finances, or if she is precluded from raising and spending party money and directing employees because she holds federal office. Kelly said she is still waiting for an FEC response.

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