Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (right) speaks to Rep. LaShawn Ford Monday on the floor of the Bank of Springfield Center, which is serving as the Illinois House chamber amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the House Black Caucus backed Welch for speaker of the 102nd General Assembly Monday night. | Justin Fowler of the State Journal Register

Multiple media sources are reporting that state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) is now in the mix as a possible successor to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who suspended his campaign for House Speaker of the 102nd General Assembly on Jan. 11.

Since last year, Madigan has been at the center of an ongoing Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal. Several ComEd executives have been charged with giving Madigan-connected people patronage jobs and internships in exchange for the House Speaker’s legislative support.

Madigan has not been charged with wrongdoing.

The scandal prompted the Illinois House to convene a Special Investigating Committee that Welch chaired. The committee ended in December, but left Madigan at his most vulnerable point in his nearly 40 years as speaker. Madigan is the longest serving leader of any state or federal legislative body in the country.

According to a recent Capitol News Service report, Madigan released a statement clarifying that his suspended campaign “is not a withdrawal,” adding that “I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first. The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”

“The last sentence of the brief statement is indicative of the uphill battle Madigan’s challengers will have to climb – they will need 60 votes, or 42 more than any challenger appeared to have Sunday night,” Capitol News Illinois reported.

The House speaker is selected by members of the House and may receive votes from members of either the Republican or Democratic parties. In the 102nd General Assembly, there are 73 Democrats and 45 Republicans. Typically, however, a speaker gets votes from members of his or her own party.

“In the first closed-door unofficial ballot conducted between Democrats in a private room at the Bank of Springfield Center on Sunday night, Madigan received 51 votes, according to several reports confirmed by Capitol News Illinois.”

Madigan had the endorsement of both the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus. Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago was the second-highest vote-getter in the closed-door meeting, with 18 votes.

But by Monday night, multiple media sources were reporting that the tide was turning and Welch had secured the unanimous endorsement of the Black Caucus.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Rachel Hinton tweeted on Monday night that, in addition to the backing of the Black Caucus, Welch also had the backing of Madigan. She later tweeted that a Madigan spokesman said the House Speaker isn’t “taking any position on any of the candidates who’ve either been announced or whose names have been mentioned in the media.”

Tony Arnold, a reporter for WBEZ, reported that a Black Caucus member who previously broke from the Caucus by refusing to endorse Madigan told WBEZ that he is “proudly” part of the Welch endorsement.

The official vote for speaker takes place on Jan. 13.

Welch, whose district spans parts of River Forest, could not be reached on Monday night for comment, but the representative released a statement on Tuesday.

“I am honored to be called upon my [sic] colleagues from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to put my name in for consideration,” Welch stated. “This historic moment in Illinois and across the country calls for new representation and unity of democratic beliefs. I want to thank Speaker Madigan for his leadership — it has been a challenging year for us all but I am grateful for his commitment to serving the public.”

If Welch is chosen as speaker, he would be the first Black person to serve in the position in the state’s history and the second politician from the west suburbs to reach the pinnacle of state politics. Last year, Oak Park resident Sen. Don Harmon assumed the position of Illinois Senate President by narrowly defeating Maywood resident Sen. Kimberly Lightford, whose district also includes parts of Oak Park.

An attorney by profession, Welch was first elected to the General Assembly in 2013, after narrowly defeating current Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins for the seat. Prior to that point, he served as president of the Proviso Township District 209 Board of Education for roughly a decade.