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State Election

Chicago lawmaker will take over for ousted director of Democratic Party of Illinois

State Rep. Christian Mitchell of Chicago Tuesday was named interim executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, replacing Timothy Mapes after his ouster in a harassment scandal.

Mitchell has a background in campaigns and community organizing, and he becomes the first African-American to hold the post of running the state party’s day-to-day operations. He has been a member of the legislature since 2013 and lives in Bronzeville.

He fills the vacancy created when House Speaker Michael Madigan in early June dropped Mapes, who served as his chief of staff since 1992 and executive director of the state Democratic Party since 1998. Mapes’ departure came after House staffer Sherri Garrett accused him of harassment and bullying.

Mitchell was selected by a panel made up of the party’s 18 state committeewomen and chaired by state Rep. Juliana Stratton, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor on the ticket with governor candidate J.B. Pritzker.

The choice of a man by the all-women panel was somewhat unexpected because the fallout from the #MeToo movement has plagued Democrats under Madigan, who also serves as the party’s chairman.

State Rep. Litesa Wallace, a Rockford Democrat who is leaving the chamber after losing a bid for the lieutenant governor nomination on state Sen. Daniel Biss’ ticket, had expressed interest in the job. In a statement, she congratulated Mitchell but said “there was no clear application, submission, or selection process” for the post.

But Mitchell’s selection represents Democrats’ need to have a veteran campaign organizer on board quickly as the fall campaign season approaches, party officials said. A permanent executive director will be appointed after the Nov. 6 election.

“People tried to make the best decision going through the election,” said Lauren Beth Gash, Democratic state central committeewoman for the 10th Congressional District and a former state lawmaker. “There are many people who would be qualified, but Christian’s experience in this arena is unique.”

Mitchell previously served as Midwest director of paid media and polling for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, a senior adviser for Tammy Duckworth’s U.S. Senate campaign, former campaign aide to Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former Ald. Will Burns, director of external affairs for Cook County government under Board President Toni Preckwinkle and a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago.

“I look forward to doing the work necessary to assure Democratic victories up and down the ticket and charting a new and inclusive path forward for our party,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Together, I know we can build a party that represents the diversity of our state, listens to our young people and relentlessly fights for the values that make Illinois strong.”

Despite Madigan’s longtime control of the party, the choice of Mitchell represented the involvement of Pritzker and his campaign. The billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune is self-funding his campaign and has devoted significant resources to party operations and candidates, similar to how Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has subsidized the state GOP and its candidates.

Shortly after his appointment was revealed, Mitchell announced Pritzker is behind a $1 million voter-registration push in conjunction with the state party.

“This $1 million initiative will help us reach voters in districts where a strong Democratic turnout from new or unregistered voters could flip seats and lead Democrats to victory up and down the ballot,” Mitchell said.

Additionally, the choice of Mitchell and the involvement of Pritzker’s campaign team may represent a broadening of the state Democratic Party’s role into down-ballot contests across the state.

“I would like to see that,” Gash said. “I believe that (Mitchell’s appointment) does that.”

The state party has been slow to modernize as it kept its focus largely on helping retain Madigan’s House majority. He is the nation’s longest-serving House speaker, a role he has served for all but two years since 1983.

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©2018 the Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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