As con­ven­tion nears, a call for Madi­gan to step down as Illi­nois party chair

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Days be­fore the kick­off of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, for­mer state Sen. Carol Ronen — who holds state and na­tional party po­si­tions — on Thurs­day called for Mike Madi­gan to step down as chair­man of the Demo­cratic Party of Illi­nois.

She made her an­nounce­ment in a tweet, and I asked her more about it in an in­ter­view. The con­ven­tion — all vir­tual now — be­gins Aug. 17. There will be a vir­tual “wel­come re­cep­tion” for the Illi­nois del­e­ga­tion at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 16. Joe Bi­den ac­cepts the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion Aug. 20.

Each night, at 6:30 p.m., the Illi­nois del­e­ga­tion will hold a vir­tual del­e­gate meet­ing be­fore the con­ven­tion prime-time pro­gram, start­ing at 8 p.m. and run­ning two hours.

As most know, Madi­gan is un­der a cloud. Though not charged, he fig­ures heav­ily in the fed­eral charges against Com­mon­wealth Edi­son. In the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the util­ity ad­mit­ted to a scheme of do­ing fa­vors to at­tempt to wran­gle fa­vor­able treat­ment from Madi­gan, who is also the Illi­nois House speaker.

Madi­gan, wear­ing his party chair­man hat, would, in past years, be a highly vis­i­ble pres­ence at del­e­ga­tion meet­ings taking place each day dur­ing na­tional con­ven­tions, and that’s the prob­lem.

Tweeted Ronen, “Speaker Madi­gan should re­sign lead­er­ship posts. IL Dems big­ger than one per­son. @Dems­forIl has ex­cel­lent, di­verse lead­ers for vic­tory w/ out dis­trac­tions. We win when we stand for some­thing big­ger than our­selves. Not one in­di­vid­ual.”

Ronen is a mem­ber of the state party’s cen­tral com­mit­tee and is on the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. The for­mer North Side state law­maker also wants Madi­gan to re­lin­quish his House speaker job as well as his po­lit­i­cal post, adding her voice to a few other state leg­is­la­tors and Chicago al­der­men.

State Sen. Iris Martinez, also a DNC mem­ber and on the state cen­tral com­mit­tee, ear­lier called for Madi­gan to give up his lead­er­ship spots.

Ronen’s push Thurs­day es­pe­cially res­onates be­cause it comes just as Madi­gan could be in a na­tional spot­light and high­lights one of the two pow­er­ful hats he wears.

“The tim­ing is be­cause the Demo­cratic con­ven­tion starts in two weeks and he is the chair of our del­e­ga­tion. And as we go into this really im­por­tant, crit­i­cally im­por­tant elec­tion, I strongly be­lieve he should not be the face of our party,” Ronen told me.

Madi­gan clings to the role of the state party chair­man be­cause it helps him re­tain power in the state House. A can­di­date has to go through the state party to qual­ify for cheaper postal rates. With so many state House con­tests heav­ily us­ing di­rect mail, Madi­gan con­trols state rep­re­sen­ta­tives with threats to strip them of their dis­count mail.

Madi­gan also has a his­tory with the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. In Au­gust 2018, when the DNC held its an­nual sum­mer meet­ing in Chicago — a big party event with most state party chairs trav­el­ing to the city — Madi­gan didn’t bother to at­tend.

An­other scan­dal re­sulted in the ouster of Madi­gan con­fi­dant Tim Mapes as the party ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, who served only Madi­gan. A wel­come byprod­uct of Mapes’ de­par­ture has been the ap­point­ment of Mary Mor­risey as the party’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, who comes from Madi­gan’s world but runs the party pro­fes­sion­ally.

In 2020, a Demo­cratic Party chair, Ronen said, should “be out there to take it to Trump ev­ery day and be that strong ad­vo­cate, and we’re not really do­ing that. That’s not his thing.”

To con­sider in the run-up to the con­ven­tion:

Do Illi­nois Democrats want to be seen or as­so­ci­ated with Madi­gan, even at vir­tual events? Will Madi­gan show up in Zoom?

Democrats have made gains in Illi­nois while Madi­gan has been chair. Does that mean he sticks around no mat­ter what?

Why have a state party chair who is use­less as a sur­ro­gate? Even be­fore the ComEd scan­dal, Madi­gan shrugged off that role.

While Bi­den is go­ing to win in su­perblue Illi­nois, Madi­gan plays into the hands of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s team and is an un­needed dis­trac­tion. How does it help Bi­den to have a ma­jor state party Demo­cratic chair with se­ri­ous eth­i­cal is­sues?

And to that point, it’s not a ques­tion whether Madi­gan’s pres­ence at the con­ven­tion — even a vir­tual one — dam­ages state and fed­eral can­di­dates in tough races. It’s how much.

A Madi­gan spokesper­son de­clined to com­ment.

Ronen’s call for Madi­gan to stand down puts a fo­cus on his party role on the cusp of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion. She opens a door at just the right time for oth­ers to walk through.

ABOVE: TED SCHURTER/THE STATE JOUR­NAL-REG­IS­TER VIA AP; IN­SET: PRO­VIDED

Just be­fore the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, for­mer state Sen. Carol Ronen (in­set) is call­ing for scan­dal­ized Demo­cratic Party of Illi­nois chair and state House Speaker Mike Madi­gan to give up his lead­er­ship roles.

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