Longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan acknowledged Wednesday that it is "time for new leadership" in the chamber, issuing a statement of gratitude as the House stood poised to elect its first new speaker in decades.
“As I prepare to pass the Speaker’s gavel to a new generation of Democratic leadership, I want to thank the people of my district and the members of the House Democratic Caucus for the faith and trust they have placed in me over the years," Madigan said. "I want to thank my staff for their hard work on behalf of every member of this caucus. It has been the honor of a lifetime to help bring people of different experiences and backgrounds together to serve our state."
The House on Wednesday was set to elect Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch as the first new speaker after Madigan, marking a seismic shift of power in Springfield, bringing Madigan's reign to an end.
“It is time for new leadership in the House. I wish all the best for Speaker-elect Welch as he begins a historic speakership," Madigan's statement continued. "It is my sincere hope today that the caucus I leave to him and to all who will serve alongside him is stronger than when I began. And as I look at the large and diverse Democratic majority we have built—full of young leaders ready to continue moving our state forward, strong women and people of color, and members representing all parts of our state—I am confident Illinois remains in good hands.”
Welch, a Democrat from Hillside, locked up support from the caucus to take over the leadership role just minutes before the members of 102nd General Assembly were scheduled to be sworn in and vote for the position.
The historic vote makes Welch, who has represented the 7th District since 2013, the first Black speaker of the Illinois House in state history.
Madigan has served as speaker for all but two years since 1983, making him the longest serving statehouse speaker in U.S. history. He suspended his campaign for another term in the position on Monday after he received 51 votes in the full Democratic Caucus' first vote, falling short of the 60 needed.
“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.”
At least 60 votes are required to win the speakership, with Democrats holding 73 seats to Republicans' 45 in the House.
Once Madigan suspended his reelection effort, members of the Legislative Black Caucus then backed Welch for speaker shortly thereafter in a closed-door meeting Monday night. Welch said Tuesday he was "honored to be called upon" by his colleagues in the caucus.
"This historic moment in Illinois and across the country calls for new representation and unity of democratic beliefs," Welch said. "I want to thank Speaker Madigan for his leadership - it has been a challenging year for us all but I am grateful for his commitment to serving the public."
The Black Caucus members had previously announced their support for Madigan for another term, saying in December that the group felt Madigan - before he suspended his campaign - could help "deliver" on their priorities as the embattled lawmaker faced an uphill battle to retain his post.
In the final closed-door caucus vote late Wednesday morning, the fourth Democrats took privately before the members were set to be sworn in, Welch received 69 votes, putting him well above the threshold to win the gavel. He had previously garnered 50 votes in a vote during a caucus meeting Tuesday night, with Rep. Jay Hoffman receiving 15 votes, and eight members not casting a vote.
Two candidates for the position withdrew from the race on Tuesday: Reps. Ann Williams and Stephanie Kifowit, who were among the first to announce their candidacies for the position, challenging Madigan before the powerful longtime leader suspended his reelection effort.
Sources said Madigan on Tuesday night had already begun moving items from the desk he's held for nearly 40 years. The end of his regime was foretold in November, when a total of 19 Democrats in the House announced that they would not support Madigan for another term.
A majority of those 19 members voiced their positions publicly after two former ComEd executives and two consultants, one a longtime Madigan associate and confidant, were indicted on multiple federal charges related to the alleged scheme to influence Madigan - identified in the indictment as "Public Official A" - in exchange for legislation favorable to the utility giant, prosecutors say.
Those charges came months after federal prosecutors filed a deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd in which investigators revealed that the utility company agreed to pay $200 million dollars in fines and admitted to arranging jobs and payments for associates of an elected official, referred to only as “Public Official A," from 2011 to 2019 to curry favor with the official.
Madigan has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing and has repeatedly denied the allegations laid out by prosecutors, saying in part that if the conspiracy to influence him did occur, "it was never made known" to him and if it had been, it "would have been profoundly unwelcome."
Questions still swirled Wednesday over Madigan's role in the legislature - will he be a member of Democratic leadership? How much sway might he have with Welch as the new speaker navigates the role?
Madigan also still chairs the Democratic Party of Illinois, which he - a prodigious fundraiser - has used to protect his majority in the House for years. Will he continue in that role?
That remains to be seen, and while many questions went unanswered Wednesday, it's clear that the day's events marked the end of an era in Illinois.