Barbara Flynn Currie, the first woman to serve as majority leader in the Illinois House of Representatives and a top lieutenant to House Speaker Mike Madigan, said Thursday that she is not seeking re-election.
Currie, 77, is also the state’s longest serving woman in the Illinois General Assembly. The Hyde Park Democrat was elected in 1979 and served the South Side’s 25th District.
Tiny in stature, she cast a long shadow on the House floor, where she defended legislation and answered questions with knowledge and speed.
“I’m looking for new challenges, new opportunities,” Currie told the Chicago Sun-Times. “For example, working with advocacy groups to try to make sure the public agenda that they are about has a voice.”
“I like travel. I like having outings with family. I like music and opera and having opportunities to do that is good.”
Currie said she called several colleagues on Thursday to tell them of her decision.
“I will miss a whole lot about the Legislature. I have loved my time there. I have thoroughly enjoyed the people on both sides of the aisle. It has been a wonderful place,” Currie said. “I could not have asked for a better way to spend my years. I will miss it, but there are other things in life that one can do.”
Currie said her age has nothing to do with her decision: “People have said ‘Hang up your spurs.’ I don’t feel as if I need to hang up my spurs.”
She said people were “amazed’ when she was first elected majority leader in 1997.
“Nobody believed it when it happened. Everyone thought it was going to be a guy. It’s going to be a Downstater. And they said it’s a woman, and it was pretty heady stuff,” Currie said.
Currie said she hopes the next majority leader is also a woman.
“I would like that very much. What I would like most really is a competent, qualified, progressive able person replacing me both as the representative of the 25th District and in the role of majority leader,” Currie said.
Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, D-Skokie, called Currie’s departure “a great loss.”
“She was a powerhouse, especially for someone so tiny,” Lang said. “She knew everything about everything and was a go-to person on dozens and dozens of issues. Additionally she knew how the General Assembly worked in a way that not too many people do, and this is why she was able to be so successful in her career.”
“Fortunately she’s not leaving immediately and we still have another year and a half to enjoy her,” Lang said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Currie “one of a kind, and someone whose intelligence and command of a wide range of public policy issues is matched only by her decency.”
“Throughout her career she has been a passionate advocate for the people of Chicago and the state of Illinois,” Emanuel said in a statement. “As the first woman to hold the position of Majority Leader, she shattered a glass ceiling and blazed a trail for countless others.”