U.S. Robin Kelly of Matteson beat Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) in the hotly contested race to become chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Kelly won 51.7% to 48.3%.
Choosing the first woman and person of color to lead them, Democrats named U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois on Wednesday — despite concerns over limits on her ability to raise and spend funds.
‘Tonight we made history together,” Kelly told members of the Democratic State Central Committee. “Thank you so much. I will not disappoint you. And wear your masks.”
Kelly, who is Black, garnered 51.7% of the weighted vote to become chair of the party, narrowly besting Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) during a virtual meeting of members of the state party’s ranks.
Kelly and Harris, who is also Black, thanked each other and promised to work together after the vote. Kelly billed herself.
“I want you to know that I’ve heard your concerns and your ideas about greater transparency, engagement and building a deep, Democratic bench across all 102 counties,” Kelly said. “I want to be the next Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois because I have the qualifications, experience, relationships and vision to lead this party into the future.”
Harris went into the meeting with more committee member publicly supporting her candidacy, but fell short with 48.3% of the total.
Kelly and Harris were in a heated battle for the helm of the state’s Democratic Party after former chair Mike Madigan announced his decision to step down late last month.
Since then, the two have been backed by both their colleagues in the state central committee’s ranks as well as other prominent Democrats, with Harris receiving the backing of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Kelly receiving support from Sen. Dick Durbin and Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi.
On Monday, a legal opinion in a memo commissioned by interim chair Karen Yarbrough cast doubt on Kelly’s eligibility to lead the party, citing federal law that “prohibits a federal officeholder or candidate from directly or indirectly establishing, financing, maintaining or controlling an entity that raises and spends funds outside of federal limits and restrictions in connection with nonfederal elections.”
Yarbrough supported Harris’ bid for the post.
Given those rules, Lawyer Brian G. Svoboda said for Kelly to serve as chair, the congresswoman would need to either resign from her position, the party would need to “cease raising and spending funds outside federal limits and restrictions” or the party would need to “curtail the chair’s duties and powers” to avoid federal limitations.
A spokeswoman for Kelly said then the “suggestion” that the congresswoman is “ineligible to be the Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois is false and offensive.”
Hours later, Kelly released her own memo from lawyer Michael Dorf to committee members saying that while “there is no legal obstacle” to her serving as chair, Kelly would be prevented from “raising or spending” money for the party’s non-federal account, which is for state and local elections.
“We have acknowledged from the beginning of your campaign for DPI Chair that [a section of non-federal election law] would limit the full exercise of powers ordinarily given to the Chair of a party committee,” Dorf said in his memo.
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March 3, 2021 at 08:10PM