It sent ripples and waves throughout Illinois’ political waters.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s surprise announcement on Friday that she won’t seek re-election prompted a slew of politicians to signal their interest in the high-profile office — some within minutes of hearing of her decision.
And they’ll have to act fast. Interested candidates must campaign, raise money and scramble to get signatures on their nominating petitions in time for the March 20 primary — a scant six months away.
What once seemed like a Democratic lock on the elected position isn’t so clear either. There’s just one declared candidate thus far, Republican Erika Harold, a former Downstate congressional hopeful and a former Miss America.
Madigan’s decision now opens the floodgates to many who have been eying the influential post as the state’s top lawyers for years, including state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago. He said he’s likely to try to fill the void created by Madigan’s bombshell decision.
“I’m very interested. It’s an office of extreme potential for great advocacy. My record speaks to being able to serve in that office in terms of my chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, my work on criminal justice reform and other legal matters. It’s something I have to take a serious look at—and very quickly,” Raoul said.
Raoul also argued that there is nobody better than him to pick up the baton from Madigan on the issue of police reform.
Gery Chico — whose resume includes stints as chairman of the State Board of Education and president of the Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Park District board and City Colleges board — said he, too, is considering a run for attorney general.
Chico ran a spirited 2011 campaign for mayor against Rahm Emanuel and a failed U.S. Senate campaign for the seat ultimately won by Barack Obama.
Park District President Jesse Ruiz said he, too, is interested in replacing Madigan and would make a final decision in about a week.
“I am considering it. I love being a lawyer. It’s one of the best legal jobs in the state. And I have a lot experience as a public servant—as well as my own unique life experiences,” said Ruiz, a former state Board of Education chairman, Chicago Park District president and Chicago Board of Education vice president who served as interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools after the resignation of now convicted CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
“Today, I’m focused on honoring Lisa Madigan for all her years of service. In the coming days, there’ll be plenty of time to decide who will be candidate to replace the attorney general.”
McHenry County Board Chairman and former state representative Jack Franks says he’s considering a run as well.
“Pretty much my entire public career comes forward to this,” Franks said. “Things that are consumer related and good government and going after the bad guy, fighting for the little guy.”
Franks, a Democrat who often broke with his party while in the Illinois House, said he’d offer a choice for voters “looking for an independent voice.”
The city’s deputy mayor Andrea Zopp, former Inspector General David Hoffman and Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot all said they were not interested in running. Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s office, too, said he’s not running.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is another leading Democrat who has had his eye on the attorney general’s office for years. He’s a former state lawmaker who focused on criminal justice issues during his days in Springfield.
On Friday, Dart was characteristically indecisive. He has a history of flirting for higher office, including numerous runs for mayor, only to pull the plug.
“Lisa has been an outstanding attorney general,” said Dart’s spokeswoman Cara Smith.
“Tom, at this point, is focused on being sheriff.”
State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, who once worked for Madigan, said she hasn’t ruled out a run, while noting she’s spoken with many concerned there are few women mentioned as possible contenders for the seat.
“With Lisa Madigan not running, there would be only one independently elected woman on the Democratic statewide ticket. There are no women running for governor. . . . I haven’t ruled anything out, but I’ve also been talking to talking to other women leaders about possibly finding a consensus candidate. As a blue state, we should be doing better in terms of supporting and running women candidates at all levels.”
Harold, the Republican candidate, thanked Madigan for her service, but warned that “Illinois voters are tired of politicians putting the powerful political class ahead of the people.”
“Regardless of who the Democrats put forward, our campaign will continue to focus on protecting the people and not the powerful,” Harold said in a statement.
Other names are also being talked about as possible contenders, including state Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, former U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. None responded to calls for comment.
The attorney general post is considered a stepping-stone to higher office, although many former attorneys general have failed to make that step, including Jim Ryan in 2002; Roland Burris in 1994 and 2002; and Neil Hartigan in 1990. They all ran unsuccessful campaigns for governor.
Back when he was a state senator from the South Side, Barack Obama was seriously considering a 2002 run for attorney general, but ultimately he decided against it. Insiders believed he didn’t want to go up against Lisa Madigan after losing to U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush for Congress in 2000 — a Democratic primary loss Obama later called “a humbling experience” and “a big spanking.”
So far, the office has not proved to be a stepping-stone for Madigan, either.
She isn’t interested in the 2019 mayoral race, City Hall sources told the Sun-Times. And Madigan told the Capitol Fax political blog that she’s not running for governor next year either.