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Senate Appointment Tainted by Blagojevich

Chicago Defender, News Report, Kathy Chaney Posted: Dec 10, 2008

The question of who will succeed President-elect Barack Obama for Illinios in the U.S. Senate became clouded by the Tuesday arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

While African Americanspolitical, faith, and community organizations alikehave been openly campaigning to have a Black succeed Obama, who was the only Black in the Senate, a 76-page affidavit by the U.S. Attorney's office suggests that Blagojevich sought to use the selection for personal and political profit.

Federal prosecutors said Blagojevich was on a political corruption crime spree that had to end.

The 52-year-old Democrat was arrested at his North Side home at 6 a.m. Tuesday and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and bribery. Also arrested and charged was the governor's chief of staff, John Harris.

The charges allege the governor wanted money and other special favors.

I've got this thing and it's f------ golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for f----- nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And and I can always use it. I can parachute me there, Blagojevich said, according to the affidavit. The remarks were allegedly in reference to the senate seat and the financial and political opportunity Blagojevich felt it created for him.

Those reportedly under consideration for the seat are U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, D-7th, Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd, Jan Schakowsky, D-9th, and Luis Gutierrez, D-4th, retiring Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and Illinois Veteran Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth.

The Defender endorsed Jackson for the vacancy last month, and several Illinois newspapers followed suit.

Blagojevich said he will make a decision on the Senate seat in good faithbut it is not coming for freeIt's got to be good stuff for the people of Illinois and good for me, the affidavit claims.

The document alleges that in an FBI-taped conversation on Nov. 3, the governor, whose approval rating sank to a low 13 percent last month, stated that the senate seat is a f------ valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing, and that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open senate seat, then he will take the seat himself.

Hours after Blagojevich's arrest, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said the governor should be stripped of his powers and temporarily step down.

Blagojevich is seriously impeded from carrying out his oath of office, Quinn said at a news conference shortly after the charges were announced.

Quinn, a long-time critic of Blagojevich, was expected to be a candidate in the next gubernatorial race.

Under state law, Blagojevich must choose someone to serve as Obama's replacement through the next federal election in 2010.

The only way Blagojevich can be prevented from appointing a replacement to the U.S. Senate is if he resigns, is impeached or the state legislature changes the law that deals with how vacant U.S. Senate seats are filled, Philadelphia-based election law attorney Adam Bonin told the Defender.

At this point though, whatever appointment he makes will be tainted although legally binding and irreversible even if he is convicted, said Michael Mezy, professor of political science at DePaul University. I would think anyone who was considering seeking the vacant senate seat would be running away from being appointed by Gov. Blagojevich."

Quinn urged the General Assembly to pass legislation stripping the governor's power to appoint Obama's successor. Such legislation could take at least three days to pass. If Blagojevich vetoes the bill, the legislature could override it, he said.

Obama, who was saddened by Blagojevich's tangle of corruption woes, said no deals existed between him and the governor about Obamas senate replacement.

I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening, Obama said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called for a special election to decide Obama's replacement. It could be lumped with the special election needed to replace former U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the president-elect's chief of staff, he said.

Cong. Bobby Rush, D-1st, called the governor's alleged acts heinous and said he should be stripped of his powers but disagreed that the vacancy should be filled by a special election.

My colleagues and I in the House will be called upon to vote, almost immediately, on several important pieces of legislation ranging from economic stimulus packages to health care reform, said Rush, who last week had warned Blagojevich that he should appoint an African American to replace Obama or face the ire of the state's Black electorate.

Illinois deserves to have its two senate votes in place by January 20th and a special election would, at the earliest, occur in the spring of 2009, Rush said in a statement.

Davis told the Defender that he was never approached about any financial improprieties concerning the senate seat. In a statement, he said the allegations suggest corruption and criminal activity in the office of the governor on a massive scale. Jackson met with the governor Monday about his desire to fill the senate vacancy and detailed his qualifications for Obama's seat. If these allegations are proved true, I am outraged by the appalling, pay-to-play schemes hatched at the highest levels of our state government. I've worked to make this ongoing senate selection process more open, transparent and merit-based. So, I'm deeply concerned that this process may have been tainted, Jackson said in a statement.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who said the governor could appoint someone tomorrow including himself if he wanted, called for Blagojevich's immediate resignation.

Though Blagojevich, legally, could make an appointment to the senate seat, it would be up to the U.S. Senate to accept the appointment and seat the new senator.

The conduct is especially outrageous and truly demonstrates a new level of corruption given that Gov. Blagojevich has been the subject of ongoing criminal investigations for years.

It is absolutely clear that the governor is incapable of governing. As the state's chief legal officer, I want to assure the people of Illinois that I am working quickly to move forward on the next legal steps should the governor refuse to resign, Madigan said in a statement.

Madigan is expected to enter the next gubernatorial race as well.

Blagojevich's office said in a statement, Today's allegations do nothing to impact the services, duties or function of the state. Families will continue to receive healthcare, seniors and persons with disabilities the support and services they need, the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Illinoisans will still receive assistance. Our state will continue to ensure health, safety and economic stability for the citizens of Illinois.

Blagojevich and Harris could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Defender Staff Writer Wendell Hutson contributed to this report.

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