Jones says he'll retire from Ill. Senate

CHICAGO Jones plans to retire at the end of his term, which expires in January.

President Jones made his announcement with a written statement. He did not hold a news conference or do television interviews. Jones did talk to ABC7 via telephone. Of the timing, he said there would never have been a good time to say goodbye.

After nearly 36 years in the General Assembly, the last 15 as the senate's top Democrat, President Emil Jones will call it quits in January at the end of his current term. Senator Rickey Hendon, an assistant majority leader and Jones' whip on the senate floor, was among the first to hear the news over the weekend.

"After 36 years, why not go on and do something a little different and enjoy your life?" said Hendon, (D) Chicago.

President Jones was a stalwart supporter of Rod Blagojevich in the governor's long-running political/personal dispute with fellow Democrat, house speaker Michael Madigan, who also is the party's state chairman.

Waukegan senator Terry Link, who wants to succeed Jones as senate president, says a suburban, independent Democrat such as himself could referee the power struggle.

"I don't have to check in with anybody. I think that's the difference that would be very refreshing and would be helpful," said Link, (D) Waukegan.

Senator John Cullerton, of Chicago's North Side, is another contender. While he disagrees with Blagojevich on how to fund the governor's proposed capital plan, he denies being a front man for Madigan.

"That is clearly not the case. I'm not going to do the bidding of the speaker in the senate. I'm going to do the bidding of the people that elected me," said Cullerton, (D) Chicago.

The 73-year-old Jones served as senate minority leader during the 1990s and became the president when Democrats took control in 2003. His support base was a coalition of African-American downstate senators.

The African-American part of the coalition is fragile: Senator James Clayborne of downstate Belleville and Hendon of the city's West Side both want the job and will fight fiercely for it.

"It's not gonna be a black-only decision. People have to reach out to all the caucuses. If I get it, I won't be the black senate president. I will be the president for all the Democrat senators and Republicans as well," said Hendon.

While contenders are beginning to position themselves for the president's job, the real politicking won't begin until after the November elections.

Senator Jones said that he will ask that his name be removed from the November ballot and that he will support the soon-to-be-announced candidacy of his son, Emil Jones III.

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