Mike Madigan is not taking any chances.
The House speaker is calling in the big guns to help him hold on to his leadership of the state Democratic Party.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin — one of the most popular and powerful Democrats in the state — has recorded robo-calls in support of Madigan holding his party post as state central committeeman. And U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is planning to soon follow suit.
The move comes as Madigan is under continuing fire from legislators and gubernatorial candidates over his handling of sexual harassment claims in his political organization — and after years of Gov. Bruce Rauner and his political team branding Madigan as toxic.
There are 36 Democratic committeemen and committeewomen — a man and woman elected in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts. Amid all the attention on the race for governor and other heated races, voters will also be voting for the men and women who will hold the obscure party posts on March 20.
After the primary, the 36 members of the state central committee will ultimately meet and vote for their chairman — a post Madigan has held since 1998.
“This is Sen. Dick Durbin. We need progressive leaders to fight against Trump’s extreme healthcare cuts. That’s why we need to support Michael Madigan and Silvana Tabares for Democratic state central commitee,” Durbin says in the call. “Madigan and Tabares will stand up to Trump and fight for all of us. A vote for Mike Madigan and Silvana Tabares is a vote to resist the Trump agenda.”
The calls, which began going out this week, were paid for by “Friends of Michael J. Madigan,” one of the Southwest Side Democrat’s political funds.
Madigan is the only candidate on the ballot for the state central committeemen post he now holds — but state Rep. Silvana Tabares, D-Chicago, faces Rebecca Davies, as an opponent. Davies attended the 2016 Democratic National Convention as a Bernie Sanders delegate. And she’s endorsed by Our Revolution, the political organization that grew out of Sanders’ presidential candidacy.
“Dick Durbin referring to Mike Madigan as a ‘progressive’ is ludicrous,” Davies wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.In an interview, Davies told the Sun-Times that she’s part of a group of Sanders delegates and volunteers who decided to run for central committee posts.
“Mike Madigan has always just had his folks in there, voting for him to be chairman, doing what he says,” Davies said.
Davies says she has been canvassing for both herself and fellow La Grange resident Marie Newman, the primary challenger of U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski. Lipinski and his father, former U.S. Rep. William Lipinski, are longtime allies of Madigan.
“I have yet to speak to anyone really supportive of Mike Madigan,” Davies said. “I think a lot of people are ready for a change and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“Obviously he’s not happy about it,” Davies said of Madigan.
Asked if she’d back him for state party chairman should she win, Davies said she “hopes not to.”
“I would hope we would have another candidate, a better candidate,” Davies said. “He would not be my first choice. ”
Mount Greenwood resident Mateusz “Mat” Tomkowiak had filed petitions to challenge Madigan for the state central committeeman post, but the State Board of Elections removed him from the ballot in January.
On his campaign website, Tomkowiak says “Mike Madigan conspired to kick me off the ballot.”
He’s running as a write-in candidate, arguing “It’s time for Madigan to go.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Durbin recorded the robocalls in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Madigan’s Southwest Side 13th Ward and parts of the western suburbs, but plans to also record them statewide for other districts. He said Duckworth will also do the same statewide “on behalf of members of the central committee.”
Brown said in some of the districts, the sitting committeeman and committeewoman both face opposition, while in others only one does.
“So there’s a decision you are going to make and Sen. Durbin and others are going to try to influence that decision,” Brown said.
Asked whether the robocalls and other mailers are targeting progressive candidates, Brown said the calls are being made “for commiteemen who are supported by the Democratic Party.”
Do the calls mean Madigan, as state Democratic Party chairman, is worried he might lose that powerful post?
“The speaker will be a candidate for chairman. I’m not sure I’ve seen much that would put that in doubt but you never take anything for granted,” Brown said. “At least Mike Madigan never has.”
Duckworth’s office did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Thursday afternoon.