Clout-heavy Chicago politicians are lining up to replace U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, prompting some experts to wonder if the local Democratic party will split on whom to anoint as his successor.
The strength of the contenders may make it tough for Democrats to unite behind one candidate for the congressional seat. Also in question is whether Mayor Richard Daley will name a favorite.
Emanuel, 48, has accepted the job as chief of staff to President-elect Barack Obama and is expected to step down soon, leaving two years on his second term with more than 180 days before the next election. Under Illinois law, that means a special election will be held to replace him.
In a city where Democrats rule, the party stamp of approval usually assures a candidate's victory. Emanuel was the Democrats' endorsed candidate when he ran for his seat as representative of the 5th district on Chicago's far northwest side. So was the person Emanuel replaced, now-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But it's possible that the next person won't be endorsed by the party, said University of Illinois-Chicago political science professor and former city alderman Dick Simpson.
The contenders for Emanuel's seat include many with strong claims to the district — which may result in a divided vote that gives no one a majority or an endorsement, Simpson said. Daley may not endorse a candidate for fear of alienating others who want the spot, attorney and columnist Russ Stewart said.
Candidates include 38th Ward Alderman Thomas Allen, 47th Ward Alderman Gene Schulter, Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and state Reps. John Fritchey and Nancy Kaszak.
"The endorsement is critical. If you have an open primary with no endorsement and warring fiefdoms, the candidate with the broadest appeal is going to win," Stewart said. In Chicago, he said, it's rare for an election to play out without the Democratic Party or Daley tipping the scales.
Emanuel's office has not returned phone messages seeking comment on when he might resign.
City authorities would like the special primary and general election to correspond with suburban elections already planned for February and April and have sent Blagojevich a written plea to that effect, said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections.
"That would minimize costs and minimize voter confusion," he said.
Blagojevich's office said Thursday they received the request but had no other comment.