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Madigan to break bread with only committeeman to break ranks on party leadership

Peter Janko at the second annual Women’s March in Chicago in January. Facebook photo.

Mike Madigan has a lunch date next week with an unexpected guest: the lone progressive candidate to win a Democratic state central committeeman post last week.

And that newly elected party leader has no plans to vote for Madigan for chairman of the Democratic party, the position the powerful House speaker has held since 1998.

Peter Janko, a former Bernie Sanders delegate who said he spent just $600 on his campaign, is 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.

Unofficial primary election results suggest Madigan has held the state central committee spots he needs to keep his grip on control of the party — but he’s not leaving anything to chance.

Madigan called Janko Tuesday morning.

“I knocked on 100 doors myself and generally when you’re getting out to the McHenry area it’s almost universal that they want Mike Madigan out. I got elected by telling people that I will vote against him, and I plan to do that,” Janko told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. “I made it clear to Michael Madigan. So I’m supposed to have lunch with him next Tuesday because he wants to convince me to change my mind.”

The northwest suburban Marengo resident said he spoke with Madigan for about 30 minutes: “I told him I want to be a bridge between the Bernie side of the Democratic Party and the old establishment. I’m not here to turn anything upside down. I live in a very red district, 14th, and I’m not going into this as a protest candidate, but I want to rebuild the party.”

Janko said he believes Madigan “recognizes the writing on the wall that the progressives, maybe not this cycle or the next cycle or the next cycle, will make their way in.”

House Speaker Mike Madigan listens to a reporter’s question at a news conference in Springfield earlier this year. Screen image.

“He doesn’t want the party to implode,” Janko said.

Janko said Madigan expressed interest in working with the progressive wing of the party, citing Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia as proof. Garcia not only won the 4th Congressional District seat vacated by U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez, but also the Democratic state central committeeman post for that congressional district.

“I like Chuy, but the thing is, out of the progressive side of things, the buzz is he sold out to Madigan,” Janko said.

A Garcia spokeswoman declined to comment.

Madigan’s campaign fund spent thousands of dollars targeting the 13 progressive candidates endorsed by the grassroots political organization linked to Sanders’ run for president. All were either Sanders delegates or “super-Bernie” volunteers throughout the state, according to Our Revolution Illinois.

And it appears Madigan won. Friends of Michael J. Madigan spent $40,630.40 on mailers in the final weeks leading up to the primary election targeting two progressive candidates vying for committeeman and committeewoman posts in the 16th Congressional District just beyond the collar counties, according to campaign finance records.

House Speaker Mike Madigan, left, addressing the City Club of Chicago at the University Club of Chicago in 2015. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, right, talks to reporters in Chicago in January. File Photo.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The organization also targeted other districts with fliers and robo-calls, using the voice of Sen. Dick Durbin in several congressional districts, including in support of state Rep. Silvana Tabares, D-Chicago, and Madigan himself in the Southwest Side and west suburban 3rd Congressional District. Tabares defeated Rebecca Davies by just over 3,000 votes. Madigan faced only a write-in candidate.

13th Ward campaign sign. Sun-Times File Photo.

Janko defeated Mark Guethle — chairman of the Kane County Democratic Party — in the largely northwest and west suburban 14th Congressional District by just 2,198 votes, according to unofficial results from the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Several other progressive candidates spoke of their uphill battles against the Democratic establishment.

“Congratulations to Michael J. Madigan, whose ‘Friends of’ committee sent out five mailers and 3 robocalls on my opponent’s behalf — but they were all positive, supporting her, not mentioning me, and I do appreciate that,” Melissa Lindberg, who ran for the North Side and suburban 5th Congressional District, wrote on Facebook.

She received 39 percent of the vote, which she wrote was “not bad,” because she was a first-time candidate, had a small campaign war chest and was “running against the Machine.”

“I think it’s always a win to get one but also it’s a very difficult race to win,” said Clem Balanoff, head of Our Revolution Illinois. “When you look at the money spent against our candidates it was astronomical in relation to what our people spent.”

But Balanoff noted most people don’t even know what committeemen do.

“People don’t know what it’s about and it’s much different looking at Democratic parties in other states. It’s very down in the ballot, the last race on the ballot,” Balanoff said. “I think they gave it a good effort and we live to fight another day.”

There are 36 Democratic committeemen and committeewomen — a man and woman elected in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts. Amid all the attention on the race for governor and other heated races last week, voters also voted for the men and women who will hold the obscure unpaid party posts.

The members will ultimately meet and vote for their chairman.

Davies was among the progressive candidates who was vocal about her distaste for Madigan as chairman: “I would hope we would have another candidate, a better candidate,” Davies told the Sun-Times in early March. “He would not be my first choice.”

A growing number of Democrats have called for Madigan to step down as party chairman over questions about his handling of sexual harassment complaints within his political organization. The powerful Southwest Side Democrat has resisted those calls — and last week’s election results did nothing to change that.

“I anticipate the speaker will be a candidate to be chairman and will probably be selected as the chairman,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said on Tuesday.