Although an all-virtual Democratic National Convention has led to a few awkward moments as party leaders adapt to a new web-based format, there weren’t any technical glitches behind an uncomfortable pause Tuesday afternoon as top Illinois Democrats were asked a pointed question about embattled Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The Southwest Side powerhouse has become the elephant in the virtual conference room as questions swirl around his connection to a federal bribery case leveled against ComEd. But in the absence of an in-person convention, the longtime speaker — and members of the Illinois Democratic Party he chairs — haven’t had to worry about scrums of reporters chasing them down with questions about calls for Madigan to resign.
That changed at the end of a virtual news conference previewing the second night of the convention for the Illinois delegation, when a spokeswoman for Madigan relayed a question from NBC-5 political editor Carol Marin to a panel that included U.S. Representatives Robin Kelly and Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Mary Morrissey, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
Beyond the ComEd case, Marin asked if Madigan should step down “given also his admitted failings” in a sexual harassment scandal that rocked Springfield two years ago.
A full 13 seconds passed before Kelly offered the conditional chiding of Madigan that most prominent Illinois Dems have stuck to since federal prosecutors announced the ComEd case a month ago.
“As I told the speaker, if these facts are proven to be true, then I think that he would have to look at, or he should look at, stepping down,” said Kelly, a former Illinois House member whose congressional district stretches from the South Side to Kankakee.
“This is the most important election, and it’s really important that that’s what we’re focused on: getting Democrats elected. … And I think that’s what we need to focus on right now, making sure that we’re successful in November, and whatever we deal with after that, we deal with after that,” Kelly said. “But I just think we need to keep our eyes on the main prize, and that’s Biden-Harris, and all the other Dems that are running and flipping the Senate.”
Mendoza, a Madigan ally, said she’s “in agreement with both Mayor [Lori] Lightfoot, with Gov. [J.B.] Pritzker, right now with Congresswoman Kelly, that if these allegations turn out to be true, then he should resign both of his positions immediately. It’s really that simple.”
A handful of statehouse Democrats have called for Madigan to step down immediately in light of the ComEd case, an alleged bribery scheme that federal prosecutors contend benefited associates of Madigan.
The speaker has not been accused of a crime, has denied any wrongdoing and said he won’t step down.
The famously tight-lipped face of the state Democratic Party has also kept a low profile so far in the virtual convention, speaking on camera for less than two minutes total through three nights of local delegation programming — and using most of that time to introduce other speakers.
In a 53-second set of opening remarks to the delegation’s Tuesday evening program, Madigan noted the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
“While some women, particularly women of color, were left behind, it marked a major milestone in the fight for women’s rights,” Madigan said.