Is Kimberly Lightford the next senate president?

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CHICAGO —  It didn’t take long for a leading candidate to emerge in the race to take the Illinois Senate’s top job.

Senator Kimberly Lightford is the apparent frontrunner to become the next Illinois Senate President.

“I’ve had some wonderful conversations with my colleagues the support is really pouring in,” Lightford told WGN’s Tahman Bradley.

A Springfield legislator for more than 20 years, Lightford is Majority Leader, the number two Democrat in the chamber. Lightford said she was stunned when President John Cullerton announced his retirement last week.

“It was kind of like this shocker when John Cullerton just dropped the mic on us and said ‘Hey, I’m done,’” she said. “It was kind of like ok, where do we begin?”

The caucus begins with a contest to replace Cullerton.

Lightford has the early advantage thanks to support from various racial and geographic caucuses. Senators Heather Steans, Andy Manar, and Tony Munoz are backers.

“I was approached by Senator Steans who said ‘Hey, Kimberly, if you don’t run, I will. It’s time for a woman,’” Lightford said. “And Senator Manar is like, ‘Hey, if you don’t run, I will. You know it’s time for the downstate voice.’”

If Lightford wins, she would be the first black woman to lead the Senate.  She wants to take on Springfield’s culture of harassment and intimidation.

“ There’s a lot of dictatorship in Springfield and it’s a changing and moving environment,” she said. “The culture is a lot different today than it was as it relates to men and women relationships.  It’s time for us to have those uncomfortable conversations around relations.”

A cloud of political corruption scandals has descended on Springfield. But Lightford is not ready to commit to specific reforms.

“I’m not quick to jump on anyone’s recommendations,” she said. “I think we need to engage and get our members involved. That’s one of the reasons why my leadership will different. I think it’s important that members have an opportunity to do their job.”

And then there’s the issue of America’s longest-serving Speaker of a State legislator, Michael Madigan.

“I’ve got a good relationship with the Speaker. I actually respect him as a legislator. He’s done an amazing job over what 40 years or more? You can’t take it away from him, he’s a political genius,” Lightford said. “But that doesn’t intimidate me. It allows me an opportunity to work with the speaker. I have excellent negotiation skills and I would love to shake up the table a little bit. … Power is in the imagination. It’s what you give him. I’ll have power too as the Senate president so we can balance our power out. “

It looks like Lightford’s main opponent for president is Senator Don Harmon. WGN News requested an interview with him but have not heard back.

 

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