Party unity? Pritzker, Durbin, Duckworth all want Madigan out as Democratic chief

Speaker Michael Madigan defiantly responded after Pritzker’s remarks, saying he’s not going anywhere and looks “forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth endorses gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker as Sen. Dick Durbin looks on at the Theatre on the Lake in Chicago in 2017.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth endorses gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker as Sen. Dick Durbin looks on at the Theatre on the Lake in Chicago in 2017.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

The state’s top three Democratic statewide elected officials — Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth — are now all calling for state House Speaker Michael Madigan to step down as chair of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Pritzker urged new leadership of the state’s Democratic Party at his daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, conceding that Republicans successfully used the politically damaged speaker in this week’s election to “hurt our ability to get things done.”

Hours later, Sen. Tammy Duckworth echoed Durbin’s and Pritzker’s concerns — and took it a step further — in calling for Madigan to step down from his two leadership roles, party chair and House speaker.

Illinois’ junior U.S. senator said the federal investigation swirling around the Southwest Side Democrat is an “unnecessary distraction” and the party should “consider new leadership.”

Responding to a reporter’s question, the governor said he agreed with Durbin’s comments a day earlier that Democrats “paid a heavy price” for Madigan’s role at the top of the party.

Asked to clarify if he agreed with Durbin that the party needed new leadership, the governor gave a terse, but emphatic, response.

“Yes,” he said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in 2020; Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in 2015.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in September; Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in 2015.

Anthony Vazquez, Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

“The Republicans and the billionaires that sided with them, were effectively able to use the speaker as their foil and that hurt our ability, our state’s ability, to get things done,” Pritzker said moments earlier.

The calls for Madigan to step down hitting a crescendo, Duckworth issued her statement later in the day.

“The ongoing investigation surrounding Speaker Madigan is an unnecessary distraction and makes it harder to carry out the work of helping the people of Illinois,” Duckworth said. “As our nation hopefully embarks on a brighter path with a new President, the Illinois Democratic Party and the Illinois House of Representatives should consider new leadership to continue the progress we’ve made at the state level and build on it.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth arrives for a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington in March.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth arrives for a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington in March.

Carolyn Kaster/AP file

Madigan defiantly responded after Pritzker’s remarks, saying he’s not going anywhere and looks “forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”

Durbin was the first statewide Democrat to call for Madigan to go as head of the party in an interview on “Chicago Tonight” Wednesday.

“All across our state — and the advertising told the story — we paid a heavy price for the speaker’s chairmanship of the Democratic Party,” Durbin said. “Let’s wait and see what happens in the near term here.”

He expressed certainty that “this conversation” around Madigan’s role would go on to a “new level now that the election’s behind us.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin speaks to reporters in 2018.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin speaks to reporters in 2018.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Tuesday night was tough for Madigan.

Four of his House Democrats —Diane Pappas of Itasca, Mary Edly-Allen of Libertyville, Monica Bristow of downstate Alton and Nathan Reitz of Steeleville — all appeared to lose their re-election bids — a blow to Madigan, who saw more losses than wins on election night.

He also lost his effort to oust Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens, who doubles as mayor of Rosemont. The speaker spent more than $900,000 in campaign funds on behalf of unsuccessful Democratic challenger Michelle Darbro.

Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens, left; Democratic challenger in Michelle Darbro, right.

Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens, left; Democratic challenger in Michelle Darbro, right.

Sun-Times file

The powerful Southwest Side Democrat was dealt double blows in state Supreme Court races. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride, a 20-year incumbent who received $550,000 from the Madigan’s Democratic Party of Illinois political fund, apparently failed in his bid to be retained.

Republicans labeled Kilbride Madigan’s “favorite judge.”

In a downstate judicial contest, Democrat Judy Cates, whom Republicans tied to Madigan, lost her bid to succeed retiring state Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown brushed off a question Wednesday about whether the losses signified his boss is politically wounded.

“It’s a story that’s been written every two years,” Brown said. “I don’t know that that’s what that means.”

Long considered one of Illinois’ most shrewd and successful political strategists, Madigan has been politically wounded in the last few years. Former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner filled the airwaves with TV ads portraying Madigan as all that’s wrong with Illinois politics.

And then in July, federal prosecutors implicated Madigan in a deferred prosecution agreement charging ComEd in a $1.3 million bribery scheme. Madigan was not charged and has repeatedly insisted he has done nothing wrong.

Addressing the governor’s comments on Thursday, Madigan said in a statement he’s “proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state.

“Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature,” Madigan said.

“Illinois is the anchor in the ‘blue wall’ that has been reconstructed in the Midwest, and I look forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”

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