(Chicago Tribune) President-elect Barack Obama said today he will step down from his Senate seat effective this Sunday.
The decision adds to the pressure on Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, who under state law has the sole responsibility for naming a successor to Obama, the only African-American in the Senate.
“It has been one of the highest honors and privileges of my life to have served the people of Illinois in the United States Senate,” Obama said in a statement today.
“In a state that represents the crossroads of a nation, I have met so many men and women who’ve taken different journeys, but hold common hopes for their children’s future,” Obama said. “It is these Illinois families and their stories that will stay with me as I leave the United States Senate and begin the hard task of fulfilling the simple hopes and common dreams of all Americans as our nation’s next President.”
Aides to Obama already had said he would not be returning to Washington to vote on Senate matters this fall, in advance of his being sworn in as the nation’s 44th president Jan. 20. Obama was in Chicago today working on transition matters from the Kluczynski Federal Building in the Loop.
Blagojevich has said he expects to make a decision by the end of the year and is “not interested” in naming himself to the post.
Under the state’s 65-year-old Senate succession law, the governor must make an appointment to fill the vacancy until the next federal election, in 2010, but there is no time frame for how quickly the appointment has to occur.
Aides said they expect Obama’s Senate office to remain open for a period of time, but no more than 60 days after the resignation becomes effect on Sunday.
During that time, Senate staff members will close down the office and archive documents for a future presidential library, as well as contact constituents to inform them as to how any open casework will be handled.
The last U.S. Senate appointment by an Illinois governor occured in 1969 when Richard Ogilvie appointed Ralph Tyler Smith to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen.
The governor’s choice for the seat has the potential to affect his own political legacy as well as his possible bid for a third term. African-Americans have traditionally been a strong constituency for Blagojevich, though a recent Tribune poll showed support among black voters had fallen precipitously.
On Wednesday, Valerie Jarrett, an African-American businesswoman who is a close Obama friend and adviser, told the Tribune she is “not interested” in the Senate seat.
Obama has downplayed his own role in the selection process. “I think there’s going to be a lot of good choices out there, but it is the governor’s decision to make, not mine,” he said Friday.
Among those who have expressed interest or are being considered for the post are U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston and Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago; Tammy Duckworth, who heads Blagojevich’s department of Veterans’ Affairs; and Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, two potential rivals if the governor seeks a third term.
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., an African-American and close Blagojevich ally who served as an early Obama mentor, also has been mentioned as a possible replacement.
But Jones, 73, who is leaving his post in the legislature, is considered a caretaker replacement and national Democrats want an appointee who can run for re-election and win in two years.
Jackson has been the most active self-promoter for the high-profile job.
Jackson, the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson and a 13-year congressman, went so far as to commission a poll to try to demonstrate to Blagojevich that he would be electable on a statewide basis in 2010 if he were awarded the post. The congressman’s staff also has regularly floated news releases and appeared in TV interviews to campaign for the job.
Earlier today, Obama’s Senate colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, said he wanted to meet with Blagojevich about a list of possible successors. But Durbin, in an interview on “The Spike O’Dell Show” on WGN-AM (720), made it clear he didn’t want to see someone like Jones appointed in a caretaker role.
“I really hope that the governor will be picking someone who can serve the state rather than the caretaker or someone who is, you know, trying to put some last line on their resume,” Durbin said. “I don’t want to see that happen. I’d like to see him pick someone who can really help me and help our state.”
Durbin declined to give a list of names on his list of potential successors, although he told students in central Illinois on Wednesday that Duckworth was on his sheet.
“They include some names that haven’t been mentioned, people that I’ve noticed around the state that I think are extraordinary–who I think could step into this position and really have some value added for us in the Capitol in Washington,” Durbin said.