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Lipinski Close to Retirement

Veteran Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.) is planning to announce his retirement soon — likely by the end of this summer — and he has set in place a plan to have his son replace him on the November ballot, knowledgeable sources confirmed Wednesday.

However, sources stressed that the 11-term Chicago Democrat will not announce his departure until the highway bill is, at the very least, headed toward passage.

“It’s a done deal,” said one source with ties to Chicago politics. “He’s lined up support for his son.”

Lipinski, the third-ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, did little to bat down the retirement speculation as the conference on the highway bill got under way Wednesday.

“I’m not leaving until my work is done,” the 66-year-old lawmaker said as he headed into the meeting.

When pressed further about a timeline for his decision he snapped, “I gave you my answer.”

Sources within the Democratic Caucus confirmed that Lipinski has talked to leaders about his plans, and that his departure is contingent upon passage of the highway measure.

It is unclear what Lipinski will do if Congress and the White House are unable to reach a deal on funding the reauthorization bill. There is also some speculation that he could resign his seat before the end of this session, in which case a special election might be called.

“Once the highway bill is done, he’s gone,” said one well-placed Democratic aide.

Lipinski’s office did not return repeated messages for comment this week.

Speculation about his departure grew Monday after a report posted on The Illinois Leader, a conservative Internet-based newsletter, indicated that Lipinski’s retirement was imminent. The report said a meeting of local precinct captains and state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) to discuss the move was to take place within days. Sources also said that Lipinski was also set to meet with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) this week.

A Chicago Sun-Times columnist reported June 1 that Lipinski was contemplating retiring “before November” to become a consultant.

Lipinski has specialized in transportation matters since being elected to Congress in 1982 and sources indicated that he already has a transportation consulting job in the works. Lipinski is close to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), a former House Member and a good ally to have when it comes to Chicago land transportation issues.

Political operatives from Chicago to Washington, D.C., said Lipinski is taking a cautious approach to his retirement strategy because he is “intent on picking his successor,” as one source put it.

While that could be a difficult proposition in Chicago, where rough-and- tumble ward politics and back-room deals are commonplace, several sources indicated there was never any doubt in the entrenched lawmaker’s ability to pull off the maneuver.

Lipinski still serves as Democratic committeeman in the city’s 23rd ward and the 3rd Congressional district is home to three of the most powerful family legacies in state politics: the Daleys, the Madigans and the Hyneses.

“That’s one of the only places where the ward organizations are still strong,” noted one Chicago Democrat. “I would just think that it’s going to come together for him.”

Lipinski’s son, Daniel, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The younger Lipinski is reportedly on leave from his teaching job and in the process of re-establishing his residency in Illinois.

Daniel Lipinski received a Ph.D. from Duke University in 1998. He has a written a book, due to be released by the University of Michigan Press in October, titled “Congressional Communication: Content and Consequence.”

Once the Congressman withdraws from his re-election race, it will be up to the local Democratic ward committeemen to select a successor for the party’s November ballot spot.

If Lipinski were to make his retirement announcement before Aug. 26, his successor would have to be named by that date, the day before the Illinois state Board of Elections certifies the names for the November ballot.

Between Aug. 27 and Oct. 18, local party officials would have eight calendar days to name a replacement for Lipinski.

The 3rd district in Illinois is a solidly Democratic seat, which encompasses parts of the city’s South Side and southern and western suburbs. Lipinski’s ballot replacement will be expected to cruise to victory against Republican Ryan Chlada in November.

Still, not everyone is likely to be pleased with Lipinski’s move to essentially bequeath the seat to his son.

Reports have indicated that 23rd ward Alderman Michael Zalewski (D), a top Lipinski lieutenant, and Chicago City Clerk Jim Laski (D) may feel slighted. Lipinski’s Chicago-based district director, Jerry Hurckes, had also been floated as a potential ballot successor to his boss.

Lipinski has close ties to Daley, Madigan, a 13th ward committeeman and chairman of the state Democratic Party, and 19th ward committeeman Tom Hynes, a former state Senate president.

Madigan’s daughter, Lisa, is currently Illinois attorney general and Hynes’ son, Dan, is state comptroller. Lipinski backed Dan Hynes’ unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Senate nomination earlier this year.

Lipinski was unopposed for re-election in 2002. In 1992, redistricting forced Lipinski into a primary race against fellow Rep. Marty Russo (D).

He won that race and has easily been re-elected ever since.

Ethan Wallison contributed to this report.