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Rep. Emanuel 'Chris' Welch Emerges As Frontrunner To Replace Speaker Michael Madigan

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Less than a day before the new Illinois General Assembly is sworn in, House Democrats appear to be moving closer to selecting a new Speaker, as Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) emerged as the frontrunner in the party's internal vote to replace Michael Madigan.

Welch, a close ally of Madigan's, joined the race for Speaker on Monday after Madigan suspended his own campaign and challenged the House Democratic Caucus to "work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker."

According to published reports, Welch has since picked up the unanimous endorsements of the 22-member Black Caucus and the 9-member Latino Caucus.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov confirmed that during an internal vote Tuesday night, Welch got 50 votes for Speaker, Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) got 15 votes, and 8 Democrats voted "present." Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) and Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) dropped out of the race on Tuesday. Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) dropped out Sunday.

Williams released the following statement on Tuesday evening:

"Today I withdrew my candidacy for the Speaker of the Illinois House when it became clear I would be unable to garner the requisite 60 votes. I couldn't be more grateful for all those who encouraged and supported me along the way. I am proud of what we accomplished and the steps we took to begin a new chapter in the Illinois House. We made history. The House Democratic Caucus continues to debate the best path forward and I am confident that we will reach a decision together and get to work for the people of Illinois. I will continue to push for strong and independent women to lead - not just in the Illinois House, but at all levels of government."

The vote leaves Welch 10 votes shy of the support he needs to become Speaker, but makes him the clear frontrunner.

More internal votes are expected before the next General Assembly is sworn in Wednesday at noon.

If elected Speaker, Welch would be the first African American to lead the chamber. He has been a lawmaker for 8 years and chairs the House Executive Committee. He also chaired a special committee that was tasked with investigating Madigan's connection to the sweeping ComEd bribery scandal, but he ended the probe without ever questioning Madigan himself, and without the panel reaching any conclusions.

Madigan, 78, has been Speaker for all but two years since 1983, and is the longest-serving state House Speaker in U.S. history, but it's appeared certain for weeks that he would not get another term, after 19 House Democrats announced last year that they would not vote to re-elect him, leaving him short of the 60 votes he needed.

Madigan has been under fire for months over the ComEd bribery scandal. Last July, federal prosecutors accused ComEd of a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Madigan's favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd's rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker's associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.

ComEd has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the feds, and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine, enact a number of reforms, and cooperate with investigators in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges in 2023 if ComEd lives up to its obligations.

In November, longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd executive and lobbyist John Hooker, and former lobbyist Jay Doherty were charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records. They have pleaded not guilty. That followed the September guilty plea by a former ComEd vice president, Fidel Marquez.

Madigan has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing.

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