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Blagojevich arrest could send Jewish rep to Senate

Political observers say that U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky could end up the winner after the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. (Cosmic Smudge / Creative Commons)

Political observers say that U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky could end up the winner after the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. (Cosmic Smudge / Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had absolute power and apparently was enjoying it.

Senate Candidate 1, according to the federal complaint that led to the governor’s arrest Tuesday, was close to President-elect Barack Obama, whose newly vacant U.S. Senate seat Blagojevich was constitutionally required to fill. That fed Blagojevich’s hopes of extracting a Cabinet position or a high-salaried nonprofit job from Obama.

Senate Candidate 4, meantime, was Blagojevich’s deputy and could be counted on to protect the governor if he was eventually indicted as a result of long-running corruption investigations. Senate Candidate 2’s name allegedly was leaked to the Chicago Sun Times in a bid to spook Obama after the president-elect resisted offering Blagojevich the dream job he was demanding in exchange for naming Obama’s favorite, Senate Candidate 1.

Senate Candidate 5 was ready, Blagojevich allegedly believed, to raise $500,000 for the governor’s slush fund, and that eventually made 5 the favorite. Senate Candidate 6 was, well, rich, and that’s what gave him an in.

And Senate Candidate 3? She barely merits a mention in the voluminous tapped phone calls.

That suits U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) fine. JTA has learned that Schakowsky, the only Jewish contender to replace Obama, is the "Senate Candidate 3" in the prosecution complaint.

Sources close to Schakowsky, 64, suggested that her frustration until Monday at not being able to get a sense from Blagojevich as to her Senate prospects flowered into relief Tuesday when she discovered he was not considering her.

"The governor never asked her for anything in return," said a source close to Schakowsky. "That turns out to be a good thing."

That leaves Schakowsky untainted by association with one of the most stunning "pay for play" scandals in recent U.S. political history — and may improve her chances for an appointment.

"The process before was kind of, who knows what the governor is going to do?" the source said. "No one thought a rational appeal was going to work."

Another Democratic insider said Blagojevich’s arrest reversed the race: Schakowsky, until Monday the dark horse, is now a front-runner, and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has been tainted by his closeness to Blagojevich.

"He has hurdles, Schakowsy does not," the insider said. "Her chances of becoming the next senator went up a lot."

Schakowsky is known to be very close to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who would assume the governorship — and the power to name a replacement — should Blagojevich leave the job as result of the scandal.

That might not happen for a while, and Blagojevich’s power to name the interim 2009-11 U.S. senator from Illinois is unhampered, even from his jail call.

Schakowsky, who last month was elected to her sixth congressional term, immediately called for Blagojevich to step down.

"I actually have called on the governor to resign, and if he does not do that, I’ve called on the Legislature to call a special session," she told CNN. “They can do that, to have impeachment proceedings."

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, a Democrat who was elected to that body with Schakowsky in 1990 and backs her bid to replace Obama, said it was likelier that the state Legislature would call a special statewide election within the next few days to fill the president-elect’s seat. He said Schakowsky’s liberal, urban background would not harm her in a statewide election.

"I’ve worked with her closely and observed her in action," Schoenberg said, "and she’s already a formidable political figure."

Schakowsky comes up once in the complaint, when Blagojevich allegedly contemplates leaking her name as his choice in a bid to extract concessions from other candidates.

Other media have identified Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama mentor and now his senior adviser, as Senate Candidate 1; Lisa Madigan, the state’s attorney general whose name Blagojevich leaked in a bid to scare concessions out of Obama, as Candidate 2; and one of Blagojevich’s three deputy governors as Candidate 4.

Several news outlets have used a meetings timeline to suggest that Senate Candidate 5, who according to Blagojevich’s quotes in the complaint was ready to raise money for the governor, is Jackson. Senate Candidate 6, the wealthy one, is unknown.

Schakowsky would be a natural pick, said Linda Sher, who founded the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, a pro-Israel and pro-choice group.

"Jan is a wonderful, honest person, she serves her constituency, she has integrity and is hard working," Sher said, adding that the same qualities describe Jackson.

Schakowsky is among the most liberal lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is one of the few in the body who can claim opposition to the Iraq War from its outset. Her record is solidly pro-Israel, and she conveys a Jewish mother vibe, actively seeking out dates for her unmarried staff.

She is especially close to Rahm Emanuel, who just quit his own congressional seat to become Obama’s chief of staff. Both emerged from the Illinois Public Action Fund, a public interest advocacy group, in the 1980s.

Schakowsky has been touched by scandal: Her husband, Robert Creamer, pleaded guilty in 2005 to fraud charges in connection with IPAC, where he served as executive director. Schakowsky had no involvement in the scandal.

Sher said she has been receiving e-mails all day from friends across the country who have been struck by the depth of Illinois corruption. Blagojevich would be the second consecutive governor to go to jail if he is convicted, and the fourth to be brought down by scandal in 30 years.

"It’s not all bad," she said. "I’m answering, ‘we gave you Obama, we gave you Durbin,’ " referring to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the most pro-Israel senators.

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