Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Would Durbin Hand His Seat Back to the Simons?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Sen. Dick Durbin says he will announce in the next few weeks whether he’ll seek re-election in 2014.

    Durbin would win easily.

    In a recent poll he got over 50 percent of the vote against several plausible Republican challengers: former Rep. Bob Dold, Tea Partier Patrick Hughes and former Rep. Joe Walsh. But Durbin will be 70 next year, and even though he’s Assistant Majority Leader, his path to the top spot is blocked by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

    If Durbin decides to retire, there’s a logical successor, or at least a candidate he’ll have a hard time NOT endorsing: Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
    Simon’s father, Paul, held the seat before Durbin, and basically handed it to him back in 1996. At the press conference announcing his retirement, Simon told reporters that Durbin would be a good replacement. Simon was the most respected politician in Illinois. Durbin, a Springfield congressman who was not well known in Chicago, used that endorsement to whip Pat Quinn in the primary, 65 percent to 30 percent. Then he did the same to right-winger Al Salvi in November.
    Durbin’s relationship with Simon goes all the way back to the 1960s. Durbin lost his father as a teenager and replaced him with two political daddies. The first was Sen. Paul Douglas. As a student at Georgetown University, Durbin interned in Douglas’s office, holding papers so the senator, who lost the use of an arm in World War II, could sign them. (Durbin’s son is named Paul Douglas Durbin.) The second was Simon. After earning a law degree at Georgetown, Durbin returned to Illinois to serve as legal counsel to Simon during his term as lieutenant governor, from 1969 to 1972. That’s why Simon repaid his loyalty.
    Since she’s lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon is obviously looking for a better job. Seven of the last eight lieutenant governors have either sought higher office, or achieved it by replacing the governor. The only one who didn’t, Dave O’Neal, quit because the job was so boring. Simon has even more impetus to move up: there’s a good chance her boss will be defeated in 2014. Plus, it was her dad’s Senate seat -- in Illinois, that means it’s hers, too.
    The Simon family helped make Dick Durbin. Could Durbin refuse to return the favor?

     

    This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.