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Illinois Senate President Jones Expected to Retire

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Illinois Senate President Jones Expected to Retire

Emil Jones (AP/Seth Perlman)

Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones is expected to retire in the fall. Sources in state government say they received calls late last night informing them that Jones will deliver the news this afternoon. One of his top deputies has said publicly that Jones will step down after the November veto session.

The 72-year-old South Side Democrat entered state government in 1973 as a state representative, and moved to the State Senate a decade later. Jones, a former Chicago sewer inspector, is a graduate of Chicago Loop Junior College and Roosevelt University.

He served as Senate minority leader for the bulk of the 1990s. He became Senate president when Democrats took back the majority, and later increased his control of the chamber to a veto-proof margin.

Jones’ pending retirement significantly alters the dynamics of Illinois state politics. He has been one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s strongest allies. Jones’ allegiance to the governor has been an invaluable asset for Blagojevich in his political feud with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

There is already a lot of speculation about possible replacements. Within the senate, James Clayborne of Belleville, Jeff Schoenberg of Evanston; John Cullerton and Donne Trotter of Chicago, Terry Link and Don Harmon have all been mentioned as possibilities for the senate presidency.

There is also talk about the timing of Jones’ announcement. It comes just eleven days before state election officials finalize the ballot for the fall election. That leaves the potential for party leaders to swap Jones off the ballot and replace him with a hand-picked candidate. That has fueled talk that Jones may make a move to have his son succeed him in office—a maneuver that has been a favorite of Illinois politicians. Recently, former Congressman Bill Lipinski, former Cook County Board President John Stroger, and former Cook County Board President Bobbie Steele have all been replaced by their children through internal Democratic Party deals.

Jones’ announcement will come as his political mentee Illinois Senator Barack Obama prepares to accept the Democratic presidential nomination next week. Jones and Obama grew extremely close during Obama’s time in the state senate. Any distasteful Chicago-style political dealings connected with Jones’ retirement could become a problem for Obama who has long sought to keep his distance from the city’s reputation for political corruption and sleight-of-hand.

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