SPRINGFIELD — After a tense meeting lasting five-and-a-half hours Sunday, Democrats rang the bell to the Senate chamber signaling they'd chosen a new leader: Don Harmon of Oak Park.
"Choosing a new leader especially among your peers is a leap of faith. I stand before you humbled by your confidence," Harmon said.
It was a long day of negotiations behind closed doors. Two Democrats woke up Sunday morning with a real shot at becoming president. Don Harmon and Kimberly Lightford of Maywood are both veteran lawmakers who served in leadership under retiring Senate President John Cullerton.
Back in November, when Cullerton announced he was leaving mid-term he set off a furious battle for a replacement. Harmon and Lightford emerged as top contenders. For two months they worked over members trying get support.
"At times the contest was vigorous and sometimes contentious. So as Martin Luther King said unity is the great need of the honor," Harmon said.
But only days ago, Harmon got a big boost from Senator Emil Jones, whose father served as Senate President. Jones then began trying to bring members into the Harmon camp. It was an hugely important endorsement.
A member of the Black Caucus with Lightford, Jones provided cover for members who were waffling.
"Going back and forth. Sitting down with both candidates I had to make a decision for my district and I wanted to best represent my district and I picked which person I thought could best help me represent my district well," Jones said.
Governor J.B. Pritzker presided over the formal ceremony that established Harmon as Senate president.
In a show of unity, Lightford placed Harmon’s name for consideration.
"I can’t think of anyone else who would do a wonderful job leading our caucus and I look forward to working with him in unity," Lightford said.
On the Republican side, Bill Brady remains Senate Minority Leader.
Harmon now takes charge of a chamber facing a cloud of ethics issues and he inherits the big task of redrawing legislative district boundaries after the 2020 census.