State Rep. Lisa Hernandez is new chair of Democratic Party of Illinois – Lincoln Courier

State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, (center) will now lead the Democratic Party of Illinois following Saturday's vote.

What first appeared to be a contentious affair became one of unanimous support during the Democratic Party of Illinois Central Committee’s meeting on Saturday.

Held at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 137 Hall, Democrats selected state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez of Cicero to be the new party chair − unseating U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson.

Factions of the party were split earlier this week between Hernandez and Kelly, as prominent Democrats such as Gov. JB Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin did not see eye-to-eye.

ICYMI:State Democratic Party chair bows out in re-election bid, paving way for Hernandez

However, Kelly, the first Black woman to chair DPI, announced on Friday that she lacked the votes to continue in the position and would be stepping down in her bid.

“I was elected as the first woman and the first Black chair of the DPI (Democratic Party of Illinois) because of my vision for an inclusive, diverse and people-first party,” Kelly said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it has become clear that support for my reelection as chair will come up just shy of the necessary majority. Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for chair.”

Following Kelly’s announcement, Durbin released his own statement:

“Congresswoman Robin Kelly made history as the first African American woman to chair the Illinois Democratic Party. Her challenge was not just to build a Democratic team, but to move from one man rule to a diverse leadership reflecting our party. She worked hard, and I was proud to back her re-election. Representative Lisa Hernandez has always been a friend. I wish her well, and I look forward to working with her.”

Central Committee members expressed their gratitude for Kelly, who served 16 months as chair and replaced former House Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan has since been charged with racketeering and bribery — charges that could lead to more than 200 years behind bars.

Navigating that space occupied by Madigan for more than 20 years, Kelly said she was proud of the responsiveness of the party in her term as it “held Republicans in a meaningful way.”

Still, some disappointment lingered.

“This past week has been a challenging one, honestly, this past 16 months have been challenging in many ways,” Kelly said. “I know my vision for DPI was shared by so many and obviously I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to continue moving the party forward in this state — especially when I had so little time to do the work.”

Among those most outspoken were state Central Committeeman Bill Houlihan of District 13, which includes Springfield. Houlihan, also the Sangamon County Democratic Party chair, spoke highly of Kelly’s strides in downstate outreach − areas that have been growing increasingly conservative.

More:Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan charged with racketeering, bribery

“We do have a lot of counties that are trending red, or are red, that we have to do work in,” he told The State Journal-Register. “We have to get the tools from the state party, which we have been getting from Robin Kelly, to slate candidates for office.”

“I believe that will continue under Chair Hernandez and I think those are the kind of things that help us as a party.”

With the vote, the Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch-backed Hernandez became the first Latina elected to chair the state party. Kelly’s goals of keeping Illinois blue and gaining more seats in the House and Senate will also be embraced by her, Hernandez said.

“I vow to continue to listen to voices of Democrats across the state and will focus on building a party as diverse as Illinois,” she said. “Working together, we can build a party that will deliver more Democrats at every level of government and protect and defend our majorities.”

While no longer holding the DPI chair, Kelly will transition to represent the state on the Democratic National Committee as Christine Benson steps down. Kelly will now return as the Illinois at-large female member of the DNC.

Contact Patrick Keck : 312-549-9340,, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter

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July 30, 2022 at 05:35PM

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