Suburban Democrats are viewing U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly’s narrow election over Chicago Alderwoman Michelle Harris to lead the Democratic Party of Illinois as a win for the suburbs and for the future of the organization.

Kelly, who represents the 2nd Congressional District and lives in Matteson, was selected Wednesday to replace former Illinois House Speaker and Party Chair Michael Madigan. Another suburban contender, state Sen. Christina Castro of Elgin, dropped out of the running shortly before the vote and backed Kelly.

Suburban lawmakers are ecstatic over the result.

"I was very happy to see congresswoman Kelly in there," said Rep. Kathleen Willis, a Democrat from Addison. She said she and Kelly "do a lot of anti-gun violence issues together. I know her from that platform. I am very excited to see her there."

Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego said she also was "very excited" to see Kelly win the election. Kifowit has been a very vocal opponent of Madigan in the last year and was the first to challenge him for the role of speaker in October. She said Kelly’s selection means the Democratic Party is "turning a corner."

"Congresswoman Kelly has the skills and knowledge of the state and the ability to lead the party into the future," Kifowit said. "I am really excited about her collaborative spirit. We are a big tent as a party and we are bigger than just one person, so her willingness to work together and be collaborative, I think, is very refreshing."

State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates, had supported Castro and initially worried that Kelly might be too D.C.-focused and Harris would be too Chicago-centric. However, after Castro withdrew, Crespo said Kelly was the right choice.

"I appreciate the fact she understands the suburban experience, unlike Alderwoman Harris," Crespo said. "I think very highly of (Kelly)."

Crespo still harbors concerns that Kelly might not be grounded enough in Illinois, given her responsibilities in Washington, but said he hopes she will "surround herself with the right people" to maintain a strong presence in the state.

Kifowit and Willis, however, believe Kelly’s Illinois district represents a diverse section of the state.

"She does have urban, suburban and rural areas and I think we definitely need to embrace and support every inch of the state of Illinois and she has that knowledge base," Kifowit said.

"The more we can move the central point (of the party) out of the city of Chicago, the more inclusive we can be to bring everybody to the table and not just the city of Chicago folks," Willis said.

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March 6, 2021 at 10:28AM