The near west suburbs are turning into the power vortex of Illinois government. The selection last week of state Rep. Chris Welch to be speaker of the Illinois House, replacing, at long last, Mike Madigan, fuels the local influence. Hillside’s Welch represents portions of nearby River Forest and Forest Park in the 7th District.
Oak Park’s Don Harmon was elected state Senate president last year. It was the culmination of a steady and determined climb through senate leadership. And it mirrors the rise of Harmon’s mentor the great Phil Rock, the Austin/Oak Park native, who long held that role. Harmon’s 39th District included portions of Oak Park and Austin.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who represents North Riverside and a sizable part of Brookfield, is from Maywood. Her 4th District also includes parts of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.
She was the longtime leader of the Black Caucus in the Senate and has focused to great effect on education reform. After competing unsuccessfully with Harmon for the Senate’s top job, she became Senate Majority Leader.
Another legislator representing portions of Riverside and Brookfield, Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th) is co-chair of the House Latinx Caucus, which was instrumental in providing Welch with the critical votes he needed to reach the magic number of 60 in his quest for the speaker’s chair.
And, of course, there’s Riverside resident Michael Zalewski, the state representative for the 23rd District, which includes his hometown and Brookfield. Zalewski has become an influential legislator in Springfield as chairman of the House Revenue and Finance Committee and for his sponsorship of legalized sports gambling in Illinois.
In Welch’s earlier political career as the longtime elected head of the Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education, we were intensely and correctly critical of him. Welch ran failed schools and often with self-interest.
He is, though, an able politician and has been a better state rep than we anticipated. A reformer? Doubtful.
Nonetheless, with the needs of local governments so drastic due to COVID-19, it can only be of help that we have the ear of so many, so powerful leaders of state government.