Pritzker says it’s time for House Speaker Michael Madigan to be replaced as head of Illinois Democrats

Dan Petrella and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune

After the defeat of his signature policy initiative, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan should no longer be in charge of the state Democratic Party.

Although he’s said Madigan should answer questions about Commonwealth Edison’s admission that it engaged in a yearslong bribery scheme to try to win the speaker’s favor, Pritzker previously has stopped short of questioning his role as the head of the state party.

Pritzker’s comments come after U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told WTTW-Ch. 11 in an interview Wednesday that he believes the governor’s graduated-rate income tax proposal and Democratic candidates suffered because of Madigan’s continued role as party chairman.

“Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption and so forth and so on,” Durbin said. “It was really disconcerting to see the price that we paid on that. I hope he takes that to heart and understands that his presence as chairman of our party has not helped.”

While Durbin didn’t directly call for Madigan to resign, Pritzker was asked at his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday whether he agrees “with Sen. Durbin that we need new leadership at the party.”

“Yes,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker sidestepped an initial question about whether Madigan’s leadership and his role in an ongoing federal corruption investigation shared any of the blame for voter rejecting the graduated income tax on Tuesday.

Madigan has been under fire from many within his own party amid a federal corruption investigation. Last month, Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego said she would run to replace him as House Speaker.

In a statement put out late Thursday afternoon, Madigan said he isn’t going anywhere.

“I am proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state,” said the Southwest Side Democrat, who has been House speaker for all but two years since 1983. "Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature.

"Illinois is the anchor in the ‘blue wall’ that has been reconstructed in the Midwest, and I look forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”

Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider, who has regularly pushed the Democratic governor to issue a stronger response about Madigan, called Pritzker’s comments a “cop out.”

Schneider said a Madigan departure as Democratic chairman would be a “superficial and political demotion” that does nothing to “end Madigan’s reign of corruption as speaker of the House.”

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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