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Scott Lee Cohen goes after Ricky Hendon’s open Senate seat

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

SPRINGFIELD — Scott Lee Cohen first set his sights on being lieutenant governor, then governor, and now he’s aiming for a smaller political prize.

The millionaire pawnbroker has expressed his interest in former state Sen. Rickey Hendon’s vacant West Side Senate seat, which a panel of Chicago ward committeemen plans to fill Monday.

Secretary of State Jesse White, who chairs the panel, confirmed Thursday that Cohen had shown interest in the seat that opened when Hendon abruptly quit the Senate in late February.

Cohen spokeswoman Kathy Posner said he was approached by committeemen about a possible appointment to the open Senate seat.

“Anyone would like to be a state senator and serve the state of Illinois,” she said. “He’s expressed himself already about caring for the state. It’s an honor to serve.”

White was non-committal when asked about Cohen’s bid but said he and anyone else with an interest would be interviewed Monday.

Cohen, who lives in the northern section of Hendon’s old district, drew less than 4 percent of the vote in the November governor’s race, finishing third in a six-way race.

Cohen decided to mount an independent run for governor after winning the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor early last year. Cohen withdrew as Gov. Quinn’s running mate when domestic violence and drug-abuse allegations surfaced.

Cohen, who spent more than $3.9 million on his ill-fated run for governor, changed his party affiliation back to a Democrat in a filing last month with the State Board of Elections.

His interest is being met with skepticism by some West Side lawmakers, including state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), who questioned whether Cohen merely is trying to gain a political title or has a genuine interest in representing the 5th Senate District.

“I don’t know if he wants a position or if he wants to serve people,” said Lightford, whose legislative turf abuts Hendon’s old district.

Cohen is among at least eight candidates floating their names for the vacant Senate seat, White said, including: Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago); former Ald. Ed Smith (28th); Hendon’s 2008 primary rival, Amy Sue Mertens; Chavonne Carter and Tony C. Jones, both secretary of state employees; lawyer Mazie Harris; Roxanne Nava, former director of the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions; and Bruce L. Jackson, who lost a 2010 bid for the 9th House District.

The decision will be made by 13 committeemen, with Ald. Sharon Dixon (24th) and White having the most influence in the weighted-voting process. Dixon declined comment.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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