U.S. Sen.-elect Barack Obama has resigned from the state Senate and several up-and-coming Democrats are vying to get the South Side seat in a closed-door meeting Saturday.
With the fall veto session beginning next week, Democrats hope to have the new state senator for the 13th District in place immediately. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman is expected to stand by as Democratic committeemen in the South Side district choose Obama's successor, who would then be promptly sworn in.
At least eight candidates have submitted their names. They include Will D. Burns, a senior adviser to Illinois Senate President Emil Jones and a protege of Obama; Kwame Raoul, a senior staff attorney with City Colleges of Chicago; and Stephen Stern, former president of the Cook County Bar Association.
Burns would appear to have the inside track because of his ties with Obama and Jones. Burns is a top aide to Jones and before that served in Obama's district office in Chicago.
Technically, Obama's replacement will be selected by a group of 10 Democratic ward committeemen, but Jones, as Senate president, wields extensive control over the legislative body and his suggestion for a replacement likely would have significant, if not decisive, impact on the selection.
Burns, 31, of Kenwood said Friday that he has Jones' backing. Jones was not available for comment.
A graduate of the University of Chicago who came here from Cleveland, Burns also has worked for the Chicago Urban League and the Metropolitan Planning Council.
"I believe I'm someone who can go down to Springfield and have an immediate effect and bring my broad base of experience to the General Assembly," Burns said.
Raoul, 40, a lifelong Hyde Park resident, said he has been quietly seeking political support from leaders in the district for several months and has raised $60,000 in campaign money. Raoul has twice run against Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), who will have a large say in the outcome because of a weighted-vote system.
But Raoul said the two have mended their political differences, and he now runs a part-time legal clinic out of her district offices.
"She's been very gracious, and not too many people would even give any consideration to somebody who's run against them twice," Raoul said. "She's of a character that she would not hold that against me."
Al Kindle, Preckwinkle's chief of staff, said there is no preferred candidate.
A spokesman for Obama said the U.S. senator-elect has remained out of the process and plans to lend aides in his state Senate office to his successor for at least several weeks to help with the transition.
The interviews, which will be conducted at the McCormick Place Conference Center across from the McCormick Place Hyatt, are expected to involve each of the candidates giving a short presentation to the selection committee.