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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan announced he is suspending his campaign for a 19th term as speaker Monday.

The longest-serving leader of a legislative body in U.S. history, Madigan said in a statement: “this is not a withdrawal. I have suspended my campaign for speaker.” 

The man nicknamed the “Velvet Hammer” acknowledged that he does not currently have enough support among fellow House Democrats to keep his gavel.

“As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first,” Madigan said.

Madigan came nine votes short of gaining approval for the position Sunday. In his statement, he said the Democratic Caucus can work to find someone else who can get the 60 votes needed to be speaker.

He is still well ahead of his challengers as they campaign for House leader of the 102nd General Assembly.

During a private meeting, Madigan garnered the most votes: 51 on the first ballot. His closest challenger Rep. Ann Williams got 18. 

By stepping aside, Madigan may be trying to show that no one else can reach the magic 60 number. Democrats will keep meeting until they pick a leader. 

Governor JB Pritzker said Monday that while he talked to Madigan recently about tax policy, he’s staying out of the contest. 

“I’ll work with whoever gets elected speaker,” Pritzker said.

Madigan has led the House almost continuously since 1983. He has been dogged recently by a Justice Department investigation into a bribery scheme involving utility ComEd.

The 78-year-old Chicago Democrat has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. He said he has no plans to step down. 

Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said his statement appears to be, “typical of his style and appears to be another ploy or a head fake.” 

When the new legislature is sworn in on Wednesday, their first order of business will be choosing a new leader. But it’s possible no one will have the 60 votes needed then either. Democrats head to caucus again tonight.  

Madigan’s competition includes representatives Kelly Cassidy (14th District), Ann Williams (11th District) and Stephanie Kifowit (84th District) as of Monday night. 

There is also enormous speculation about representatives Emanuel Chris Welch (7th District), as well as Jay Hoffman (113th District) and Jehan Gordon-Booth (92nd District).

Watch WGN’s political reporter Tahman Bradley take you through Madigan’s entire political career above.

Read more: Latest Chicago news headlines