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updated: 7/18/2011 6:53 PM

Former state Senate president to head stadium panel

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  • Emil Jones Jr. will get expenses but not a salary as chairman of the Sports Facilities Authority.

      Emil Jones Jr. will get expenses but not a salary as chairman of the Sports Facilities Authority.
    Associated Press

 

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday picked a former Illinois Senate president and close ally of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to run the state panel that oversees U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox.

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Emil Jones Jr., 75, will get expenses but not a salary as chairman of the Sports Facilities Authority, which developed and operates the baseball stadium. It also sold about $400 million in bonds to pay for most of a major renovation that gutted Chicago's Soldier Field and built a new facility in the remaining shell.

More recently, the Chicago Cubs proposed having the authority borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for renovations at Wrigley Field. The idea quickly died.

Jones, a Chicago Democrat, served 36 years in the Illinois House and then Senate. He was often Blagojevich's only ally among the four top legislative leaders and sometimes blocked legislation the governor opposed. He acknowledged speaking to Blagojevich about being appointed to a U.S. Senate vacancy the governor eventually was convicted of trying to trade or sell.

Jones was also a strong advocate for greater education funding and a mentor to President Barack Obama.

He was often the subject of questions about nepotism. His son replaced him in the Senate after first working for state government. His wife, a state employee, got a 60 percent raise about the time she married Jones. His nephew and stepson were consultants at City Colleges of Chicago when it got $4.5 million in state grants thanks to Jones.

Jones did not immediately return a message left on his cellphone Monday.

In a statement, Quinn's office said Jones' knowledge of construction funding and state procurement make him "well suited" for the new position.

"His experience and reputation for fairness and leadership will be a valuable asset to the ISFA," the administration said.

The Democratic governor also appointed to the panel Dennis Gannon, former president of the Chicago Federation of Labor; Elzie Higginbottom, a millionaire Chicago developer who once chaired the Illinois Gaming Board; and Manny Sanchez, a prominent Chicago attorney and an early supporter of Obama's presidential campaign.

The Illinois Senate must review the appointments before they become permanent.

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