SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — In a closed door meeting that lasted several hours Sunday night, nearly 70 percent of House Democrats backed Speaker Michael Madigan for re-election.
The 51 votes weren’t enough. While he won the overwhelming majority of support from within his own caucus, the Speaker needs 60 votes — a majority of the entire House — to win another two-year term at the head of the chamber.
The Madigan defectors, though outnumbered in their caucus, sense some momentum on their side. Going into Sunday night’s showdown, a group of 19 House Democrats had already publicly declared their intent to vote against him. Once the roll call was complete, Representative Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg), and incoming freshmen Suzanne Ness (D-Carpentersville) and Denyse Wang-Stoneback (D-Skokie), who will be inaugurated as state legislators on Wednesday, had come out against him too.
The anti-Madigan Democrats largely rallied around Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat who secured 18 votes. Oswego native Stephanie Kifowit won three votes. Addison Democrat Kathleen Willis dropped out of the race and threw her support behind Williams.
“Today’s vote makes clear the House Democratic Caucus is ready for a change in leadership,” Williams said in a press release after Sunday night’s votes were tallied. “I am grateful for the support of so many of my colleagues and will continue to work to earn the support of the rest and unify the caucus.”
Due to the public nature of the campaign to unseat Madigan, few expected the first round of balloting to yield a clear winner. Instead, the highly anticipated voice vote put every member on the record, and tested the strength and potential limits of the Speaker’s political support.
Madigan’s coalition of supporters includes the Legislative Black Caucus, the Latinx Caucus, downstate and moderate Democrats, and organized labor unions, many of whom say they’re prepared to dig in and defend his claim to the gavel against more inexperienced challengers.
And what happens if Madigan can’t get to 60 votes?
“Oh, he’ll get to 60 votes,” a confident Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan) replied on her way out.
To get there, he’ll have to make amends with at least nine of his detractors, all but one of whom are from the suburbs and wealthier outskirts of Chicago.
Rep. Anne Stava-Murray was one of 14 white suburban women who voted against Madigan Sunday night. The Naperville Democrat drew animated backlash from her colleagues when she attacked the Speaker’s Catholic faith and suggested the his religious views were an obstacle to passing a more progressive agenda.
“I was speaking about the influence the church has with him on issues over the years,” she tweeted.
Stava-Murray’s broadside against Madigan’s faith “went over like a lead balloon,” according to one elected official in the room. “She made him look sympathetic [which is] hard to do,” one said. Another added, “Most members remember when Madigan was excommunicated by the Springfield cardinal over his pro-choice bill support.”
“My much bigger criticism was that he hasn’t been a strong leader on undoing systemic racism for the past several decades,” Stava-Murray tweeted after her heated exchange with the Speaker.
That particular line of attack did not sit well with the one House Democrat who has been in Springfield longer than anyone else but Madigan himself.
“That was so out of place for her to put that on the Speaker,” Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) told reporters Sunday night. “And I’m not making any excuses for him. But he didn’t bring racism into Springfield, where the worst race riot has been years ago.”
“Before the speaker was born, we had systemic racism,” Flowers said. “We had 400 years of slavery, so we won’t go there. And I think everybody [has] a little bias in them. But everyone is trying to evolve to do the right thing.”
If Stava-Murray’s attack was designed to weaken Madigan’s alliance with the Black Caucus, Flowers’ comments show it may have only strengthened it. The legislature is in the middle of a thorny debate about police reform measures, and several members, including Flowers, value Madigan’s experience as a negotiator who can muster the votes to pass difficult legislation.
“He’s a hard working man,” Flowers said. “Negotiating with various entities across this state is heavy lifting, and I would not want to be driving with an inexperienced driver that may run this state further off the track.”
The next private vote for Speaker is scheduled for Monday. The first official vote for Speaker is scheduled for the Wednesday on the House chamber floor at the Bank of Springfield Center.