After a nearly interrupted 36-year reign as speaker of the Illinois House, state Rep. Michael Madigan is suspending his campaign for another term.
But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up.
“This is not a withdrawal,” Madigan said in the opening line of a short statement released Monday morning.
“As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first,” Madigan said. “The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”
Rather than a sign of defeat, Madigan’s statement appears to issue a challenge to the 75 Democratic state representatives who will be sworn in to the 102nd General Assembly on Wednesday.
“With 36 hours left before the swearing-in of a new General Assembly, Michael Madigan continues to create uncertainty and misdirection,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said. “His latest statement about suspending his bid for Speaker, but not withdrawing, is typical of his style and appears to be another ploy or a head fake. For the sake of the institution, his caucus must demand that he be direct and honest about his intentions – in or out.”
A weekend test vote showed Madigan to have the overwhelming support of the caucus, but nine fewer votes than the necessary 60 to win the speaker’s gavel.
The announcement is apt to kick off a political melee – which Madigan may be betting will quickly descend into a “Lord of the Flies”-style race for power, leading Democrats back to him – as his challengers vie for their peers’ support.
State Rep. Ann Williams, who represents part of Chicago’s Northwest Side, trailed Madigan in the Sunday vote, but the 18 votes she did receive was a powerful showing, and led contender Rep. Kathleen Willis, of Addison, to drop from the race and give her support to Williams.
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, from Oswego, is also running. But Madigan’s announcement could open the gates for others to get in the race.
Madigan loyalists, however, may still be wary, given that the longtime speaker’s statement is a clear indication he isn’t ready to give up the reins.
Nineteen House Democrats have publicly given assurances they will not back Madigan as speaker under any circumstances, but Madigan won endorsements from the powerful voting blocks of Latino and Black lawmakers.
Madigan is cited dozens of times in court documents in which electric utility Commonwealth Edison admitted to federal prosecutors that executives engaged in an illegal bribery scheme to curry favor with Madigan.
But the powerful South Side Democrat said it was without his knowledge, and that he has done nothing wrong.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky