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Madigan resigns state House seat ‘at peace with my decision’ — and with power to handpick his successor

As 13th Ward committeeperson in the Cook County Democratic Party, Madigan has 56% of the weighted vote that will decide who replaces him in the House.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, on the House floor at the Capitol in Springfield in 2003.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, on the House floor at the Capitol in Springfield in 2003.
Seth Perlman/AP file

Mike Madigan said Thursday he’ll give up the Illinois House seat he’s held for half a century — but unlike when he lost the more coveted speaker’s post a month ago, this time the Southwest Side Democrat is in a position to handpick his successor.

In a lengthy statement, Madigan said it was an honor to “serve the people of Illinois as speaker of the House and state representative of the 22nd District,” and he took aim at the “vicious attacks” by people who “sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois.”

“Fifty years ago, I decided to dedicate my life to public service,” Madigan said. “Simply put, I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I believed then and still do today that it is our duty as public servants to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and help hardworking people build a good life.”

Though Madigan initially said his resignation would take effect later this month, a spokesman confirmed it would be effective immediately. Asked why the date changed, the spokesman said “I don’t know.”

The Capitol Fax political blog first reported the change in timeframe.

A spokeswoman said Madigan will remain the chair of the state’s Democratic Party.

Madigan’s loss of the speaker’s position last month set off a scramble among Democrats jockeying to line up the support to take over the powerful leadership post.

His resignation from the much lower profile House seat — one of 118 in the chamber — will kick off an appointment process that could see Madigan personally hand pick his successor.

As 13th Ward committeeperson in the Cook County Democratic Party, Madigan has 56% of the weighted vote that will decide who replaces him in the House, meaning he could have sole say in who takes over representing the now heavily Hispanic district.

The weighted vote is based on the number of votes cast for the state House seat in each committeeperson’s ward or township in the last general election. Madigan has called a meeting to pick his successor for 10 a.m. Sunday at the 13th Ward’s service office at 6500 S. Pulaski.

Of the four remaining committeepersons, Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) — a close Madigan ally — has the next largest share of the weighted vote. She has 31%.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to lawmakers on the House floor from the podium at the Illinois state Capitol in Springfield in 2004.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, listens to lawmakers on the House floor from the podium at the Illinois state Capitol in Springfield in 2004.
Seth Perlman/AP file

A spokeswoman for Tabares said the alderman has reached out to all committeepersons involved to “articulate the need for an open and transparent process” in making the appointment.

Objecting to Madigan’s outsized role in the appointment, U.S. Rep. Marie Newman called for residents to be “heard loud and clear when choosing Michael Madigan’s successor.”

“We cannot allow history to repeat itself,” said the LaGrange Democrat, who ousted Madigan ally Dan Lipinski from Congress last year. “Allowing this Individual to handpick his own successor not only shortchanges our residents and effectively shuts them out of the process but also discredits any sense of transparency and inclusion that our government strives for.”

In his exit statement, Madigan, 78, said he was “particularly proud” of the Democratic caucus’s work to increase the diversity of voices in the house to “include more women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.”

“In my tenure as Illinois House speaker, we worked to elect representatives across all backgrounds and beliefs to truly represent the interests of the people of our state,” the statement continued. “I leave office at peace with my decision and proud of the many contributions I’ve made to the state of Illinois, and I do so knowing I’ve made a difference.”

Madigan’s reign as the longest-serving state House leader in U.S. history ended last month after he was unable to secure enough votes to continue as speaker. State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside who is considered a Madigan loyalist, ascended to the leadership position.

In a statement, Welch thanked Madigan for his “sincere and meaningful contributions to our state.”

“Under him, we’ve had strong, sustained Democratic leadership in Springfield,” Welch said, highlighting some legislative accomplishments such as legalizing same-sex marriage and abolishing the death penalty.

“Now we must build on that with a new generation of leadership focused on racial and gender equity in all dimensions, improving government transparency, and leading with the kind of conviction, compassion and cooperation expected by our constituents,” Welch said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Madigan and his family “dedicated countless hours to serving Illinois families, particularly during the Rauner years, when he served as the bulwark against constant cruelty to the most vulnerable.”

Then state Rep. Michael Madigan on the House floor in 1979.
Then state Rep. Michael Madigan on the House floor in 1979.
Sun-Times archives

“Over his decades in office, he shepherded through some of the most consequential changes to our state,” Pritzker’s statement continued. “The people of Illinois have much to be grateful for thanks to his dedicated public service, and the many sacrifices he and his family made to make a difference in our lives. I know how dearly he loves his wife Shirley, their children and grandchildren, and I hope that in this next chapter, his family can begin to make up for lost time.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said Madigan worked “tirelessly” on behalf of Illinois residents, and “leaves a legacy of service and sacrifice that is to be admired and is deserving of our gratitude.”

House Speaker Mike Madigan takes the oath of office while his wife Shirley looks on during swearing in ceremonies on the House floor in 1999.
House Speaker Mike Madigan takes the oath of office while his wife Shirley looks on during swearing in ceremonies on the House floor in 1999.
Seth Perlman/AP file

Bob Reiter, the head of the Madigan-aligned Chicago Federation of Labor — which has an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times — called the former speaker a “courageous champion of workers and their families in Illinois for a generation.”

Republicans had a different take on Madigan’s announcement.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner — a chief Madigan nemesis during the Republican’s one term as governor — told NBC5 the former speaker’s resignation was “one of [the] best birthday presents I’ve ever had.” Thursday marked Rauner’s 65th birthday.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, called the news “no surprise” and said he’s “been looking forward to this ‘new day’ in Illinois for some time.”

“Rep. Madigan’s autocratic rule over the decades has not made Illinois a more prosperous nor competitive state,” Durkin continued. “Our state is in shambles — financially, structurally and ethically. New ideas and sincere collaboration between the parties is the only pathway forward.”

Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer of Dixon called Madigan’s resignation a “predictable sequel to the monumental change” in leadership last month.

He said Madigan’s resignation tried to “cherry-pick a few examples of things that he was a proud to be a part of,” but the deputy leader said the “significant problems” that arose during Madigan’s tenure shouldn’t be glossed over.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan talks to reporters during a lunch break from meetings with Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Illinois’ three other legislative leaders in Chicago in 2004.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan talks to reporters during a lunch break from meetings with Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Illinois’ three other legislative leaders in Chicago in 2004.
M. Spencer Green/AP file

Demmer pointed to a “number of investigations of potentially illegal or unethical behavior, a real consolidation of too much power behind one person and, really, a legacy that prioritized political power over the good of the state of Illinois.”

The former speaker’s fall from leadership came after federal prosecutors accused leaders at ComEd of bribing associates of Madigan in exchange for his organization’s help in passing favorable legislation.

Those accusations, which were laid out in a July deferred prosecution agreement, caused some legislators, and Pritzker, to call for Madigan to resign if the allegations were true.

Nineteen House Democrats, some pointing to the ComEd allegations, said they would not vote for Madigan to remain as speaker, effectively denying Madigan the votes needed to remain in power.

Madigan has not been charged with any crime and denies wrongdoing, but his confidant Michael McClain and three other members of his inner circle were indicted in November for an alleged bribery scheme designed to curry favor with the then powerful legislative leader.