U.S. Representative Robin Kelly became the first Black person and woman elected chair of the Illinois Democratic Party. Kelly will replace the former chair, Michael Madigan. Kelly defeated 8th ward Alderman Michelle Harris Wednesday evening, winning 52% of the vote. Both U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia supported Kelly’s run for chair.
Emanuel Chris Welch, Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, congratulated Kelly. “I congratulate Robin Kelly on her election as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois. I am confident we will work together to offer voters a bold agenda for Illinois. More resources for our public schools. Social and economic justice for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color. Improved access to health care and social services. And a safe and resilient recovery from this pandemic. With her at DPI, we will build on an already strong and diverse Democratic coalition, so I look forward to working with her.”
Concerns over Kelly’s eligibility to serve as chair clouded the election. Federal elected officials are prohibited from raising or spending funds for local or state elections. Kelly confirmed that her fundraising is restricted under federal law. She however refuted the notion that it would render her ineligible to serve as chair.
Kelly states she intends to reconstruct “the autocratic model” enforced by former chair Michael Madigan. She plans to institute a “more inclusive decision-making model” to ensure she complies with federal law.
Kelly’s win comes as a blow to Governor. J.B. Pritzker who like Senator Tammy Duckworth backed Alderman Harris. Mayor Lori Lightfoot remained neutral as Harris serves as City Council floor leader.
Kelly faced opposition from former Senate President John Cullerton. Cullerton suggested that Harris and Kelly split the position. He inferred that Harris could focus on fundraising and Kelly serve as public party lead. Kelly has served five terms in Congress.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer and journalist based in Chicago. Find her on social @beboldshineon.