New House speaker's team lacks suburban leaders, Willis says

New Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch's leadership team, which he announced Thursday, does not have enough suburban representation and includes too many Michael Madigan loyalists, says Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Willis of Addison.

The team also does not include any of the women who ran for House Speaker - Willis, Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego and Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago, she noted.

Neither Willis nor Rep. Fred Crespo, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates, was retained by Welch in House leadership.

Suburban representation will include only Reps. Natalie Manley of Joliet and Robyn Gabel of Evanston, plus Rep. Deb Conroy of Villa Park in one of six new positions of caucus whip, which do not pay leadership stipends.

"I am concerned about (suburban leadership), I am going to be completely honest," Willis said. "Especially because I was the only member of leadership that represented DuPage County and Fred (Crespo) did have suburban Cook (County) right up to DuPage County. I am concerned that we have lost that leadership voice on the team."

Other new Democratic faces added to leadership are Reps. Mary Flowers of Chicago, Jay Hoffman of Belleville, Jaime Andrade of Chicago, Marcus Evans Jr. of Chicago and Delia Ramirez of Chicago.

"The people that are on his leadership team right now are all Madigan loyalists. Every single one of them started out as a Madigan loyalist" in the lame duck session that began Jan. 8, Willis said. Gabel was one of 19 lawmakers to pledge not to back Madigan for leader, "but she had been a very strong Madigan loyalist before that," Willis said.

Willis was pleased to see Rep. Greg Harris, a Democrat from Chicago, and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria, remain in upper leadership, but she would have liked to have seen Democratic women like Kifowit and Williams assume leadership roles.

Willis, one of the 19 Democrats who stood against Madigan, said others in the group share her concerns. They are "very concerned and very skeptical," she said.

"They're going to have to work extremely hard to break down that barrier to make sure that it is seen that this is a new leadership team with a new regime," Willis said. "I think it's going to be that much harder to prove to people that are skeptical that we are actually going to see some new changes."

Leaving leadership "won't silence my voice," she said. "I can certainly advocate for my area without being on that leadership team and I intend to do that."

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