November 15, 2008
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
The questions of who gets Barack Obama's Senate seat and who runs for Congress to replace Rahm Emanuel are producing a wild, pre-Thanks-giving turkey trot and a flock of candidates.
I'll begin with a dip in the deep end.
• • • •
Go ahead, governor, pick Emil Jones.
Before you reformers out there shriek, "No!" and start pounding out furious e-mails, consider the problems and possibilities.
Today, as Barack Obama formally resigns his U.S. Senate seat, Rod Blagojevich, our pay-to-play federally targeted governor, is getting ready to appoint Obama's successor. And Obama, the president-elect, can't weigh in like some Chicago ward boss.
Whoever gets this job will only serve two years before the next election. Who, in their right mind, thinks bearing the label of Blagojevich's designated hitter will help them win then? So why not a benchwarmer for a brief interlude and let everyone else engage in a fair and open fight in two years?
I know Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, sees this differently, telling the Chicago Tribune: "I really hope that the governor will be picking someone who can serve the state rather than [be] the caretaker or someone who is, you know, trying to put some last line on their resume."
Durbin didn't call out Emil Jones by name, but he didn't have to.
But let's remember, the governor doesn't listen to Durbin, resents Obama and coolly dismisses qualified candidates like Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. or Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
So Jones, who is retiring as president of the state senate, is a perfect choice. Didn't he resign just in time for his ward boss buddies to install his son, Emil III, on the November ballot unopposed? Didn't he help Blagojevich in his blood feud with House Speaker Mike Madigan, turning the General Assembly into a do-nothing quagmire of epic proportions?
So governor, pick your pal Jones.
In order to bring real change to Illinois, the public needs to get a lot angrier than it is. This will really help.
• • • •
Congratulations, Deborah Mell.
Knowing when not to run can be the sign of a good politician.
Ms. Mell, whose father is Dick Mell, alderman and boss of the 33rd Ward, and whose brother-in-law is the aforementioned governor, has just been elected to her first political office as state representative of the 40th district on Chicago's Northwest Side.
But like 15 other would-be candidates, she heard the siren song of higher office when 5th District Rep. Rahm Emanuel agreed to be Barack Obama's chief of staff.
Mell, a lesbian and activist, has always said serving in Congress is her dream. And so, before even being sworn in, she seriously thought about making the leap. After all, seats in Congress don't open up very often.
Then again, fulfilling your promises to the people who elected you in the first place, learning the legislative ropes along the way, shows judgment as well as ambition.
Good move, Ms. Mell.
• • • •
Ditto, Forrest Claypool.
For Cook County Commissioner Claypool, the siren song was doubly strong. As a political consultant who worked with Obama guru David Axelrod throughout the campaign, Claypool has spent the last week and a half agonizing about whether to go to work for the new administration in Washington or run for Emanuel's seat.
He has decided to do neither, staying instead to be one of the precious few on the County Board willing to battle with its emperor- president Todd Stroger and maybe run against him in 2010.
"I've spent six years working hard to reform county government," Claypool told the Sun-Times. "I think I can make a bigger difference locally than nationally."
Good news for the citizens of Cook County? Yes.
Bad news for Stroger? Absolutely.