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Illinois Lieutenant Governor: Colorful Candidates Apply For Democratic Party Bid

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CHICAGO — Illinois' Democratic voters picked a pawnbroker as their candidate for lieutenant governor, and that didn't exactly end well. So perhaps they won't mind if the next candidate doesn't have a job. Or is still in school. Or isn't actually a Democrat.

At least that's what some applicants for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket seem to hope. The Democratic Party of Illinois has received more than 70 applications since it began accepting them on its Web site this week. Applicants included a former senior adviser to disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and an out-of-work technician who answered the question "Why are you a Democrat?" with "Who said I was?"

Democrats are looking for a replacement for Chicago pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen, who left the race less than a week after winning the primary election amid accusations he abused his ex-wife and held a knife to the throat of an ex-girlfriend who was later arrested for prostitution. Cohen has denied the allegations, and charges stemming from his arrest were dropped when the ex-girlfriend didn't show up in court.

Cohen's exit left Gov. Pat Quinn without a running mate and gave members of the state central committee a unique opportunity to pick a candidate. Party officials haven't set a schedule for the selection process, said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is chairman of the state Democratic party.

Brown said the committee hopes everyone interested in the position will apply online, including the five Democrats who lost to Cohen in the primary. None of them had applied as of Wednesday night, creating a field dominated by political newcomers.

A handful of hopefuls identify themselves as Republicans or independents on the five-question application form, and several say they are currently unemployed. Many are educators, lawyers and people younger than 30. Almost all are from the Chicago area.

Given their lacking political experience, applicants have been creative in describing what they would add to the Democratic ticket. One suburban Chicago man listed his "Jamaican wife and three kids" among his strengths, while a self-professed independent listed his "ability to create an organization of farmers, hunters and wizards that will zoom with innovative solutions."

Wizards?

Two Chicagoans listed just one strength apiece: "I did not vote for Rod Blagojevich in 2006," and "Transparency; all bimbo eruptions & financial catastrophes have been posted on the worldwide web long ago."

Many made clear that little political backing and few connections should be seen as a benefit, and one young man listed among his endorsements "My wife and my upstairs neighbor." He later withdrew his application, as did a marketing operations executive.

Cohen also was a political novice, as is the Republican candidate, Jason Plummer, a 27-year-old southern Illinois businessman.

It was Cohen's fiery departure that helped thrust the typically low-profile race into the spotlight. Lieutenant governors have few statutory responsibilities, and Quinn was the first lieutenant governor in more than 30 years to ascend to the governor's office. One former lieutenant governor got so bored with the job that he resigned. Madigan, the state House speaker, has even pressed for the position to be abolished altogether.

Of those who had applied as of Wednesday, the few noteworthy exceptions with political experience included the former mayors of several Chicago suburbs and Bob Arya, a longtime journalist who left the industry to work for Blagojevich in 2006 – only to leave in 2008 because of what he described as the now-ousted governor's ineptitude.

Blagojevich is currently awaiting trial on federal corruption charges that include allegations he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat for personal or political gain.

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On the Net:

Democratic Party of Illinois: http://www.ildems.com/