November 9, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 5)—U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) announced today that his Senate Democratic peers are prepared to elect him to the post of whip, the second most powerful spot in the party’s Senate leadership.

Durbin, now serving his second term as the senior U.S. senator from Illinois, said he had polled his Democratic colleagues and had received enough commitments to give him the post when the caucus votes later this month. If he receives the anticipated votes, Durbin will serve as second-in-command to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who is scheduled to become Minority Leader following the failure of Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to win re-election.

“I look forward to working with Harry Reid,” Durbin said. “We have been close friends in Congress since we were both elected to the House in 1982, and I know that he will continue that relationship as we work together on the issues that move our country forward.”

For the state of Illinois, Durbin’s selection as party whip would add considerable clout to the state and aid in the securing of transportation funding.

“Illinois is already home to the Speaker of the House, Republican Dennis Hastert,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Now we will also be home to the second-most powerful Democratic in the Senate. This will make for a great bi-partisan, bi-chamber, 1-2 punch for Illinois projects. ”

Szabo said Durbin’s elevation in the Senate hierarchy would be particularly important with the retirement of Congressman William Lipinski (D-IL).

“Bill Lipinski has always been a ‘go-to’ guy on rail labor issues and Chicago transportation funding,” Szabo said. “His loss from the House Transportation & Infrastructure committee will leave a big hole to fill.

“Now Dick Durbin is positioned to enhance his power and assist in bringing additional funding home to Illinois,” Szabo said. “That will be good for Illinois travelers and shippers and also a solid plus for railroad workers.”

Szabo noted that, “Dick Durbin comes from a railroad family, worked on the railroad as a young man and has always been supportive of our rail labor agenda – preserving our collective bargaining rights, Amtrak funding, advancement of High Speed Rail, and Railroad Retirement. We can expect him to continue in the forefront of our efforts,” Szabo said.

Szabo noted that Durbin’s will move into his new position with some additional new help at his side.

“Our newly elected junior U.S. senator, Barack Obama, came down strongly on the side of passenger rail, high-speed rail and CREATE funding in his own campaign,” he said. “And from Barack’s work in the Illinois Senate, he has an unblemished record of support for rail labor. Illinois rail workers have sent a very strong team to Washington. The UTU has worked with these legislators before and will continue doing so as they assume their new positions and powers.”

Szabo said that while Durbin is expected to be elected to the whip post later this month he will not assume his duties until the 109th Congress convenes in January and its members are sworn into office.