SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Senate president John Cullerton told his caucus at the end of veto session Thursday night that he plans to retire and step away from his post in January.
The Democrat, who also works as a Chicago attorney, took over the helm to lead Senate Democrats one decade ago after former Senate President Emil Jones retired.
Cullerton presided over the impeachment of former Governor Rod Blagojevich, enacted tougher regulations on tobacco products and raised the smoking age to 21, and negotiated the ‘Grand Bargain’ with former Governor Bruce Rauner that ultimately failed, but laid the groundwork for the state to end a two-year budget impasse.
He has taken criticism in recent days for not pressuring some of his members to resign in the wake of a sprawling FBI probe.
Senator Tom Cullerton, a Democrat from Villa Park and a distant cousin to the Senate President, faces federal indictment for allegedly taking payments from a teamsters union on a ghost payroll.
FBI agents later raided the home and state offices of Senator Martin Sandoval, a Democrat from Cicero, though Sandoval has not yet been charged. Cullerton removed both members from their positions as chair of their respective committees, but argued they deserved due process before being expelled or forced out of office.
Another member, Senator Terry Link from Waukegan, was named by the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune as a government male who wore a wire to help the feds bust House Democrat Louis Arroyo for alleged bribery. Link denied any involvement, but Cullerton stepped in to help try and negotiate the final details of an agreement to establish a casino in Chicago. However, that deal fell apart in the waning hours of veto session Thursday night.
The Senate President was recently awarded for his work on curbing tobacco use by the American Lung Association.
According to sources familiar with his thinking, his original plan was to stay on as Senate president through the redistricting process in 2021.
Cullerton issued the following statement upon announcing his retirement:
“Eleven years ago I was honored to be chosen as the leader of the Illinois Senate. I came to the job with great optimism and enthusiasm, ready to tackle the challenges confronting Illinois, and with great expectations for moving forward to solve some of the crises our state faced.
I’ve had the pleasure to work with a body of Senate members who were equally resolute in moving Illinois forward and making the changes necessary to grow our economy and build a better future for our children and our communities.
With great accomplishments, and yes, some setbacks, for the last 11 years I can humbly brag that we have made great strides.
Our list of accomplishments includes:
Two capital bills
Abolished the death penalty
School funding reform
During a time when our efforts were challenged on many fronts, we found ways to reach across the aisle, and through compromise we worked together to get our job done. One of the highlights of my career was working with Republican Leader Christine Radogno to try to bring to an end the state budget impasse.
During my tenure as State Representative and Senator, my focus was on the local district. But once I became Senate President, my primary focus was redirected to the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Our meetings were fun, inspiring, challenging, heart- wrenching, primal and revealing. Finding ways to keep my team united have been some of my proudest and most interesting moments.
I’m ready to embark on a new course. I’ve been promising my wife, Pam that I would retire:
-after 39 years of duty …
– when I turn 70 …
– when we had a Democratic governor …
So now, after 41 years in the legislature and 40 years of marriage, I’m finally going to live up to my promise to retire.
In counting our years of marriage, Pam deducts for the days I spend in Springfield, so she will claim we’ve only been married 30 years. Now all that will come to an end and she will have to give due credit to each day together.
I look forward to watching this august chamber and all you will accomplish. As we all know, there will be bumps in the road, but they will be paved over with new ideas and solutions, and a constantly changing body of members who are eager to bring their own vision and signature to our illustrious Illinois Senate.
Thank you to my family, my friends, and my constituents, whose support and encouragement will always be the backbone of my efforts.
And thank you to my wonderful staff who have kept me on track for the last 11 years. I owe much of my success to their constant vigilance, their professionalism and their humor throughout it all.”Illinois Senate President John Cullerton
Here is a statement from Governor JB Pritzker.
“In the past decade as Senate President, John Cullerton has been a passionate advocate for improving Illinois — whether it was his focus on ending the scourge of youth smoking, dedication to fully funding education or efforts to advance critically needed infrastructure throughout the state”
“Over the years, I came to know John as my state senator, and this past year I have truly appreciated his work to advance our common agenda to stand with working families. I wish him all the best in the years to come, and I know that Pam and his children will be glad to start their next chapter as a family.”ILLINOIS GOVERNOR JB Pritzker