Former Speaker Michael Madigan unsure how long he’ll remain state Democratic chair as he picks 26-year-old successor

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Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read
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Former Speaker Michael Madigan said Sunday he hasn’t made a decision on how long he will continue as state Democratic Party chairman as he installed a 26-year-old constituent services worker as his successor for the Illinois House seat he vacated Thursday.

Madigan, who was deposed last month by his Democratic colleagues after 36 years as speaker, also said that after a 50-year legislative career, he didn’t believe he had stayed around too long.

“I don’t think so,” he told reporters. “Others may disagree.”

Madigan’s comments came after a nearly two-hour meeting in the ballroom of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture — the home of his district and ward committee offices — where the former speaker and local Southwest Side Democrats heard from 10 people looking to succeed him in the General Assembly.

Madigan held 56% of the weighted vote cast in the 22nd House District, controlling the nomination, and picked Edward Guerra Kodatt, a bilingual outreach and budget assistant in the constituent services office run by Madigan and 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn.

Kodatt, who worked in the office since 2017, earns $42,456, city payroll records show. Kodatt will earn $67,836 in accepting a post Madigan held 24 years before he was born. Kodatt, an Eastern Illinois University graduate enrolled in an online MBA program at the University of Kansas, also worked on three Democratic legislative campaigns.

Interviewed by the ward and township officials within Madigan’s 22nd District, Kodatt offered few direct responses to questions that included what his first bill would be, saying, “A lot of issues are important to me.” He did not comment on whether he would have voted for a controversial policing bill expected to be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, saying he “wanted to read it,” or who his favorite governor was: “To be honest with you, I don’t have one.”

“I know what the constituents are looking for. I know how to serve their needs,” Kodatt said, ending up with 63% of the weighted vote. “I found out (about Madigan’s resignation) just like everybody else and decided to throw my hat in the ring. I’m ready for the challenge and excited to step up for this opportunity.”

As for his successor, Madigan said: “I think Mr. Kodatt will stand on his own merits. He has spoken to his background. He spoke to his aspirations for service in the General Assembly and I’m sure he’ll be judged on his actions.”

State Rep. Aaron Ortiz, the 14th Ward committeeman, nominated Silvia Villa, a professor of Latino studies working in state “Welcoming Centers” for immigrants, and Ald. Silvana Tabares, the 23rd Ward committeewoman, nominated Angelica Guerrero Cuellar, a Latino community services volunteer, to succeed Madigan. They lacked the needed votes and Tabares declined Madigan’s effort to make the appointment of Kodatt unanimous.

Madigan had been pressed by groups to select a Latino as the Hispanic population has surged in the Southwest Side district. Progressive groups also asked that Madigan recuse himself from selecting his successor. He initially joked that another qualified applicant, his wife, Shirley, had withdrawn from the race.

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While the meeting was about a Madigan successor, it also was about the man who held the title of longest-serving statehouse speaker in the nation until fellow Democrats voted for state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Maywood on Jan. 13, the state’s first Black House speaker.

It was the first time Madigan has been in public since the House vote and his resignation last week, though he continues as state Democratic Party chairman, a post he has held since 1998, for a term that expires in March 2022.

“I’m going to be an active Democrat. I will be an active Democrat in whatever role is available to me,” he said. Asked if he had made a decision about stepping down from the state party chairmanship, Madigan said, “We haven’t gotten to that bridge yet.” Asked when that would be, he said, “I have no idea.

“I don’t feel a need to step down,” he said.

Leading Democrats have urged that he vacate the party post along with his governmental offices after he became ensnarled in a federal investigation in which Commonwealth Edison has pleaded not guilty and agreed to pay a $200 million fine in a bribery and influence scheme aimed at winning his influence.

Madigan’s closest confidant, former legislator and lobbyist Michael McClain, and former ComEd executives and officials were indicted as part of a scheme in which federal prosecutors allege money and do-nothing jobs went to Madigan’s allies in exchange for help with state legislation. They have pleaded not guilty.

Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has denied knowledge of the alleged scheme.

Life, the 78-year-old former speaker said, is “getting better” with “less to do.”

“I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to serve so many years in the General Assembly, worked with multiple governors, worked with multiple mayors, worked on solving difficult problems facing the state government, the city government, other governments across the state,” Madigan said.

Asked if he was frustrated by how his lengthy political career had fallen, Madigan said, “No. I think I’ve always had a very realistic view of service in government and politics.”

“I did it for a long time,” he said. “I was able to serve through multiple transitions and so I just leave with a great sense of gratitude that I was able to do it for as long as I was able to do it.”

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