Gov. Pat Quinn wants party leaders to name Sheila Simon, daughter of iconic U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, as his running mate in the upcoming election.
"Sheila Simon has an exemplary record of public service on her own," Quinn was quick to say at Friday's announcement in Chicago.
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Simon, 49, is a law-school professor and former Carbondale City Council member who lost a 2007 race for mayor. Simon applied for the party's lieutenant governor nominee appointment after primary winner Scott Lee Cohen withdrew amid revelations that he had been accused of holding a knife to his girlfriend's throat, abusing steroids and failing to pay child support.
The late Paul Simon, once a lieutenant governor, is among Quinn's political heroes and he has known Sheila Simon since she was young. Quinn appointed her last year to a blue ribbon ethics panel.
"I am thrilled, I am honored and I am well aware this is not the final step," Sheila Simon told the Daily Herald Friday.
Simon will be in Springfield today to officially compete for the job as Democratic officials vote on Cohen's replacement - a process that will put Quinn's political credibility to the test.
If the party's 38-member central committee votes for someone other than Simon it would be a slap in the face to Quinn, who would have to campaign with the winner despite having chosen a different candidate.
Despite Quinn's nod to Simon, a movement is still afoot among some committeemen to nominate state Rep. Art Turner, a Chicago Democrat who came in second in the primary.
Some black leaders warn that passing over Turner could alienate their crucial voting bloc, threatening Quinn's chances to beat Republican state Sen. Bill Brady and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney on Election Day in November.
Turner made it clear Friday he planned to keep angling for committee votes regardless of Quinn's preference.
"The race is not over," he said.
Quinn dismissed arguments that Turner should be nominated because he came in second to Cohen, saying that election is over. He also argued black voters will look at his total record come Nov. 2 and still support him over Brady and Whitney.
"I think people know I'm on their side," he said, adding later after repeated questions, "I hope we can have a large turnout of voters, period - of all voters."
The governor refused to say who he voted for in the primary citing his "right of privacy."
Quinn said he is "optimistic" the central committee, made up of two committeeman from each congressional district, will support Simon. But he conceded he didn't have the votes locked up.
Quinn did indicate House Speaker Michael Madigan, who heads the state party and backed Turner in the primary, was on board with Simon.
"I think on this ... we both agree," he said with a smile.
Many committeemen are expected to side with Quinn's choice Saturday, not wanting to embarrass their governor. Former state Sen. Carol Ronen, a Chicago Democrat and committeeman from the North suburban 9th District, said she'll back Simon today.
"I think she has a great record and stands for the same types of progressive politics that Governor Quinn supports, and would make her a great addition to the ticket," Ronen said.
Quinn stressed Simon's downstate roots in making the case.
"I think it is important downstate Illinois not be forgotten," he said.
However, Quinn's first two reported choices were suburbanites. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates turned down his offer. The former congressional candidate is now among the top brass at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Before word of the Simon pick leaked out Thursday night, state Sen. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest was considered a front-runner.
But Garrett and Quinn don't see eye-to-eye on his push for an income tax hike. The governor sidestepped questions about whether that was why he moved to Simon.
Simon supports Quinn's tax hike.
When pressed about Simon's qualifications to step up as governor, Quinn took a shot at Brady's running mate, Jason Plummer, a 27-year-old political newcomer from Edwardsville. He said Plummer's resume showed "little accomplishment."
But before turning attention to Republicans and the November election, Quinn may need to mend Democratic fences torn during the selection process.
Quinn attempted to downplay any divisions Friday, saying of the other nomination hopefuls, "I like them all."
State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a member of the Democratic Central Committee, was not pleased Friday that she and other black legislators where not counseled by Quinn on his pick.
"He's entitled to do whatever he wants. He's the governor. But he doesn't have a vote. I do," Yarbrough said. "Maybe we'll get together and maybe we won't."
The lieutenant governor, paid $135,669 a year, commands an office budget of roughly $2.5 million dollars with 29 staff members. Although the position is largely ceremonial, it has taken responsibility for oversight of the Rural Bond Bank, the state's Main Street program and the River Coordinating Council.
Daily Herald staff writer Chase Castle and news services contributed to this report.
Name: Sheila J. Simon
Age: 49; born March 13, 1961
Family: Husband Perry Knop, two children; daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon.
Education: Law degree, Georgetown University; political science degree, Wittenburg University.
Experience: Law professor at Southern Illinois University, member of governor's Illinois Reform Commission, former member of Carbondale city council, unsuccessful run for Carbondale mayor.
Other activities: A member of Loose Gravel, a Carbondale-area band. Simon plays bassoon and banjo.
Quote: "A responsible budget is one way to demonstrate that elected leaders can focus on the long-term public good instead of short-term acquisition of power. The Democratic Party has the opportunity to show that kind of leadership and restore public confidence in government."