Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s vacated 22nd District House seat has a new occupant — the second replacement in four days — after Madigan asked his first choice to step down this week in an embarrassment to the normally fastidious Democratic boss.
Madigan on Thursday appointed Angie Guerrero-Cuellar to the seat he held for more than 50 years, using his power as Chicago’s 13th Ward committeeman. Madigan had far and away the most weighted votes of the committee of five who convened to make the replacement to make the appointment unilaterally.
Her appointment comes one day after Madigan’s original choice, Edward Guerra Kodatt, resigned from the House just three days into his tenure. Kodatt, who had worked for Madigan’s handpicked Chicago Ald. Marty Quinn (13) since 2017, was asked to step down by Madigan and Quinn Tuesday evening after unspecified allegations about his past behavior came to light.
Madigan declined to answer questions about the specifics of that alleged behavior Thursday.
“The proper questions were asked,” Madigan said of Kodatt’s vetting process.
When asked if Kodatt had lied to Madigan and Quinn during the vetting process, Madigan said he wasn’t “going to get into that.” He was also perplexed at a question about whether Kodatt’s forced resignation was a manifestation of so-called “cancel culture.”
“What culture?” Madigan asked.
Instead, Madigan pivoted to praising Guerrero-Cuellar’s qualifications.
“I'm anxious to move forward with Angie Guerrero-Cuellar,” Madigan said. “She's been active in our community, which you can read from her resume. She's worked with various community organizations on the southwest side of Chicago, and therefore she's had good experience and understanding of the needs and the desires of the people of the southwest side.”
Kodatt was chosen from a group of 10 hopefuls on Sunday, where Ald. Silvana Tabares (13), who had the second-most weighted votes to choose a replacement for the 22nd District House seat, nominated Guerrero-Cuellar. When Madigan asked Tabares if she would consider changing her vote to make Kodatt’s appointment unanimous, she declined.
But in announcing the selection do-over on Wednesday, Madigan said he would throw his support behind Guerrero-Cuellar, who has since September worked at southwest side nonprofit Envision Community Services heading up its contact trying
Thursday’s selection was a quick affair, and though some of the 10 who interviewed for the seat on Sunday showed up again, they were not asked to speak. State Rep. Aarón Ortiz (D-Chicago), who had the third-most weighted votes on the selection committee once again nominated Silvia Villa, an associate dean of adult education at Richard J. Daley College.
Ortiz said he hoped Thursday’s selection process would make up for the Kodatt incident.
“What I just want to ensure is that we gain the trust of the public and with actions like these sometimes it provides you know an opportunity for people to judge the process a lot more,” Ortiz told NPR Illinois. “These types of actions make you lose the trust of the community sometimes.”
Guerrero-Cuellar was sworn in with her family at her side and afterward got choked up when speaking to reporters about what it meant to have her mother, who immigrated from Mexico decades ago.
“Her determination and her will, and her success — I mean, I had her stand next to me when I took that oath because this position is not about me, it's about her, and the choices that she made and my dad made,” Guerrero-Cuellar said.
Guerrero-Cuellar is married to a Chicago police officer and the couple has two young daughters.
“[I’m trying to] teach them and to let them know you can have both: You can be a wife and a mother and you can have a successful career in politics,” Guerrero-Cuellar said. “You don't have to pick one or the other.”
State Board of Election records show Guerrero-Cuellar has worked on at least one political campaign — that of Angie Sandoval’s failed bid for Cook County Board in 2018. Sandoval is the daughter of the late State Sen. Marty Sandoval (D-Chicago), who resigned from the General Assembly in early 2020 pleaded guilty to bribery charges a few weeks later. Sandoval died in December.
Guerrero-Cuellar has been active in her southwest side community for years, and during the COVID-19 pandemic has been engaged in getting services to Latino residents. Asked to grade the COVID response from the city of Chicago, Cook County and state of Illinois, Guerrero-Cuellar demurred, saying there was no playbook for the pandemic.
But she pointed out that zip codes on the southwest side — 60629 and 60632 — have been among the absolute hardest-hit in the city by the virus, and said vaccine education should be a priority.
Asked about filling a House seat with 50 years of history behind it, Guerrero-Cuellar said she has “to recognize the legacy” Madigan leaves behind, and hoped to develop plans of her own to differentiate herself.
“There's good things that he's done for this community and for this district,” Guerrero-Cuellar said. “But he's also been in office for so many years and he's had the ability to do that. I've been in this position, maybe 10, 15 minutes so I haven't really had the opportunity to look at everything. So the next few weeks are going to be me being dedicated and hard at work and pushing forward, and just understanding all of it.”
Ortiz, Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus, said he’s eager to work with Guerrero-Cuellar in the legislature and in the caucus. The pair represent the House districts with the second- and third-largest Latino populations in Illinois.