SPRINGFIELD — He’s survived a heavily funded blame game and requests to resign as chairman amid his handling of sexual harassment allegations within the state Democratic party.
But Mike Madigan, 76, made it clear he’s not going anywhere.
Madigan on Monday became the longest-tenured Democratic Party chairman in state history, with just one voice of dissent — a newly elected progressive committeeman from Marengo. Madigan has led the party since 1998, and he’ll soon begin his sixth term.
The Illinois House speaker who is also the longest serving statehouse speaker in the U.S. was nominated for another term in the party post by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, Democratic committeeman Bill Houlihan and state Sen. Cristina Castro during a state central committee meeting in Springfield.
“The ayes have it and Mike Madigan is once again re-elected chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois,” Illinois Senate President John Cullerton announced.
In accepting the nomination, Madigan, who has been coy about his support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, was a little more blunt.
“Now is the time for Democrats to come together. Now is the time to come together so that we can elect J.B. Pritzker as the governor of the state of Illinois,” Madigan said, urging the party to “turn a page in the history of the state so that we can turn away from the conflict and the contention that’s happening under Gov. [Bruce] Rauner.”
Kelly told the small group that she was “surprised” when Madigan called her to ask for a chair nomination. While she declared he’s “done a good job in the era of Rauner,” and the “era of Trump,” she noted the state Democratic party must be open to change.
“It’s not a secret that change needs to happen, and we need to be more transparent as an organization. We need to be more inclusive and we need to make sure we are respecting every man and woman,” Kelly said.
But what kinds of changes is Madigan willing to make?
He told reporters he plans to consult with each committeeman and committeewoman, saying he began those talks as he tried to solicit votes for chair.
“My plan would be to ask them, ‘How do you think we should go forward?’ Some have already given ideas. They’re all good ideas. Bottom line, yes we need the party to be transparent. We want the party to be inclusive. You don’t win elections with small tent political parties. You win elections if you have a big tent political party. That’s what we want to do here in Illinois,” Madigan said.
Madigan chastised Rauner for his constant criticism, saying the governor has focused on him because he has no record. He called the “Blame Madigan” game nothing new, saying he’s endured it for “close to 10 years.”
And he noted an onslaught of spending to bash him has put a dent in his popularity numbers: “If the amount of money spent on negative advertising against me had been spent against you,” he told a reporter, “your poll numbers would be in bad shape too.”
Speaking on the “The Ben Joravsky Show” on WCPT-AM shortly after the meeting, Madigan extolled his longevity.
“I’m a very young 76 years old,” Madigan said. “So long as I can continue to do a good job, I’m going to continue to do it.”
Peter Janko was the lone committeeman to vote against Madigan. And that was no surprise. The two broke bread shortly after the election, with Madigan asking for his support.
“We need fresh new blood, fresh ideas and I would like to see somebody else. I’d like to see an orderly transition,” Janko said. “It’s not that I have anything, like, personal or [a] grudge but you know we’re in a new era now. We have a voter turnout problem. Millennials aren’t engaged, and I just feel that we need new strategies.”
Janko said he didn’t nominate anyone else because as a new elected committeemen, he simply didn’t know anyone else.
Janko, a former Bernie Sanders delegate who said he spent just $600 on his campaign, was the only progressive candidate to win a seat on the state central committee from a slate of 13 endorsed by Our Revolution Illinois, the grassroots political organization that grew out of Sanders’ run for president.
Also at the central committee meeting, Madigan highlighted new policies regarding sexual harassment training — the problem he’s had to tackle head-on in recent months amid allegations that led to the ousting of two of his political aides. In the weeks leading up to the March primary, the controversy prompted a number of Democrats to call on Madigan to step down as party chairman, although Pritzker was not among them.
On Monday, Madigan said those who do not undergo training and requirements cannot be workers or volunteers for the state party.
“That’s set right in the personnel policy,” Madigan said, calling the new policy “very very rigid.”
“There will be no exceptions,” Madigan said.
Madigan, too, announced state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, will replace U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos on a statewide panel that he created to combat sexual harassment and help elevate women in politics. And during the meeting, Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris nominated Karen Yarbrough, Recorder of Deeds and Democratic nominee for Cook County clerk, also be named to the panel. The party accepted the nomination.
Outside the meeting, dozens of union workers carried signs, some that read “I love Madigan.”
“I wouldn’t say he needs our support,” said Ed Garcia, an operating engineer and member of Operating Engineers Local 965 said. “I’d say he deserves our support.”
The Rauner-bankrolled Illinois Republican Party, which has spent millions targeting Madigan, earlier released a statement that claimed the state’s top statewide Democrats “are mum” about Madigan’s leadership post “because they are complicit and they know he is dragging their campaigns down,” party spokesman Aaron DeGroot said.