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The elbowing begins for Cullerton’s job

Monday, Nov 18, 2019

* Subscribers received some updates on this topic today. Here’s my weekly syndicated newspaper column, which was written on Friday

Much will change at the Statehouse when Senate President John Cullerton retires in January, a year before his term expires.

Unlike his House counterpart, Speaker Michael Madigan, Cullerton always wanted to find ways to get things done — and he got a lot done.

He’s a kind, approachable man who prefers bipartisan statesmanship but relishes partisan battle whenever the times call for it. He’s smart and funny and has managed to keep a diverse caucus together without resorting to intimidation, like his predecessor routinely did.

And, frankly, he’s been very good to me over the years, always taking the time to talk. If he disagreed with something I wrote about him, he’d call me himself and make his case instead of ordering some underling to do it or give me a cold shoulder. The state will be lesser with Cullerton’s retirement, but a lot of us will miss him.

OK, enough with the mushy stuff and on to the future.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) told me she’s running for Senate President. She will be formidable because she’s well-liked, she’s already in the second position and she’d be the first woman of color to lead that chamber in Illinois history. Not to mention that she has strong leadership skills.

As a friend said, Lightford can either be the next Senate President or make the next one. If she can cobble together a coalition with one or more of the other people I’m about to mention, she may very well end up in the chamber’s top job.

One of the ways Cullerton convinced his fellow Democrats to back him for Senate President in 2009 was to demonstrate how much money he could raise. He took in more than $750,000 in the four months after Senate President Emil Jones announced his retirement. That may seem like a quaint amount these days, but it was enough to impress his colleagues back then.

On fundraising alone, Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) should be considered a serious contender. She has the connections and the ability to raise big cash and helped Cullerton raise all that money in the run-up to his Senate President bid. She’s also an experienced budget negotiator and has serious policy chops.

Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) was perhaps the leading contender last year to replace Cullerton when he quietly told select members of his leadership team that they might want to start lining up support to replace him. Munoz appeared to be Cullerton’s favorite right up until Cullerton decided to rescind his announcement because it was dividing his caucus and damaging his ability to maintain power. Munoz had been expected to get a primary opponent this coming spring, but nobody has yet surfaced, so that helps his bid. Munoz is very popular within the caucus, has powerful allies, but he was close to Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), whose Statehouse office was raided by the feds in September, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) was the other leading contender for Senate President last year. Since then, he was moved out of the Senate Executive Committee chairmanship and given a paid leadership job. It seems certain that he will throw his hat into the ring. He has policy, campaign and communication skills and has some support within the caucus.

Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) is Cullerton’s former chief of staff, is perhaps the most media-savvy member of his caucus and is super-close to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who could turn out to be an important factor here. A Pritzker negotiated Lightford-Manar ticket might work. Manar’s biggest hurdle is that he represents a swingy, Republican-leaning district. His people love him there, but he will technically be on the political bubble every time he’s on the ballot.

Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) describes herself as a dark horse candidate mainly because of her relative newness to the chamber (elected in 2012) and her outspokenness on ethics. But she’s built a formidable political organization in Lake County, so she has campaign skills.

Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) also said he’s looking at the job. Sims worked his way up the Senate staff to run the appropriations team. He served in the House before moving to the Senate.

I’m sure there will be others, but the field will eventually winnow as deals are cut. And whomever wins the job will have to run again in a year, after the current General Assembly adjourns. The new president won’t have long to prove that s/he is up to the job.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

13 Comments
  1. - Linus - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 9:34 am:

    = If she can cobble together a coalition with one or more of the other people =

    Please, let it be President Lightford and Majority Leader Manar.


  2. - Oak Parker - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 9:38 am:

    Lightford or Harmon - someone who represents Oak Park will be back in Phil Rock’s position


  3. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 9:45 am:

    If the nominate whoever it was that wore the wire, that will really make sure the nature of any meetings that person conducts are beyond suspicion.


  4. - Amalia - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    Tony Munoz….really?


  5. - Ok - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:59 am:

    From our old pal worldslinger:

    Harmon is touted as a “progressive reformer” who want’s “radical change” but strips an ethics bill so he can keep muni bond business? Thats neither progressive nor radical. That’s business as usual.

    Bond deals are the ultimate insiders’ political trough. The work’s easy and the pay is great. Most bond deals in Illinois are negotiated, rather than competitively bid, for no good reason at all. You get the business because of clout.

    Comment by wordslinger Friday, Nov 14, 08 @ 10:57 am


  6. - Anonymous - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:08 am:

    = Harmon is touted as a “progressive reformer” who want’s “radical change”==.

    OK, maybe he is a progressive reformer in favor of incremental change? He still doesn’t strike me as being hack like as some Senators do. He works within the system which usually works better.


  7. - Quibbler - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:39 am:

    Shouldn’t be Manar. Politically and morally, Democrats can’t have a white male anti-choicer as their leader in the Senate. Plus, as noted, Democrats need somehow who can advocate for a full-throated progressive agenda, not someone who’ll be compromised by having to worry about retaining a marginal seat.


  8. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    === need somehow who can advocate for … agenda, not someone who’ll be compromised by having to worry about retaining a marginal seat.===

    You have no idea what it means to lead a majority caucus, push an agenda, AND keep that majority intact come election time.

    It’s this type of thinking that lacks how important a decision this caucus has in the overall health of an agenda and the caucus.

    You use that sentence for any of the four tops, it’s a requirement that loses, with any of them.


  9. - thechampaignlife - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 12:04 pm:

    It is a sad fact that the leader of a chamber has immense power and requires a skilled fundraiser. To an outsider, that sounds like a corruption of the intent of a representative democracy. But, rather than trying to improve the system, the players continue the dance.


  10. - anon - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 1:42 pm:

    Manar would be in a tough position. Really any unpopular partisan vote could come back to haunt him in the next election.


  11. - At some point... - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    These folks are going to be viewed through the prism of the current and developing scandals including which of these folks has been closest to ComEd. They’re going to be viewed through the lens of who said what to whom on Terry’s wire, etc. We simply can’t ignore the growing scandal in the selection of a new Senate Pres.


  12. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    === We simply can’t ignore the growing scandal in the selection of a new Senate Pres.===

    The vacancy will exist come January.

    It can’t be left vacant until something in the legal realm occurs.

    Move forward, see how it plays out.

    It’s not like Sandoval is vying to be senate President.


  13. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 4:05 pm:

    At some point…


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