CHICAGO – The crowded field of hopefuls racing to replace embattled former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will soon dwindle to one person; one candidate, who, in a steep local economic mess, will have to tackle issues and aspirations left unrealized by the exiting Congressman.
Jackson Jr. served in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District for more than 17 years before resigning last November, just one week after he reclaimed his seat in a landslide victory, grabbing 63 percent of votes cast during the 2012 election.
The Feb. 26 Democratic primary winner is almost certain to win the April 9 special general election in the heavily-Democratic district. And since a chance like this only comes around every so often, politicos agree that it’s expected that many will bid for the seat.
Potential Democratic candidates vying for the seat must gather at least 1,256 signatures on nominating petitions to be eligible to run for the special primary election, while a Republican candidate would need 288 signatures. Independent candidates would need as many as 25,095 signatures while any new party candidates would need at least 15,682.
In mid-December, a group of Democratic committeemen were expected to throw their support behind a candidate following a slating event for 2nd Congressional District seat seekers, however they unanimously voted not to slate a candidate.
With the January 7 deadline to file nomination papers looming (Jan. 8 for write-in candidates), 2nd Congressional District aspirants have less than a week to gather the necessary signatures to petition to run, or run as a write-in candidate if they desire. Since the filing deadline hasn’t yet passed, it’s unclear exactly how many Democrats will run in the primary, however, since Jackson’s resignation, the district has seen more than a dozen contenders either announce their candidacy, be rumored to run or take their hat out of the ring all together.
- Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-11th), 54, who lost the Democratic primary election in March when Jackson Jr. grabbed 71 percent of the votes, announced her candidacy in late November.
- State Senator-elect and former NFL linebacker Napoleon Harris, 33, announced his run around the same time. He recently won a seat as Senator of Illinois 15th Senate District in municipalities in the 2nd Congressional District.
- Once mentored by Jackson Jr., 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, 45, is running for the seat. Beale says he was the “only candidate in this race who has created thousands of jobs.” He’s credited with helping bring the first Walmart and between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs to his Ward in 2010.
- Second-term State Senator Toi Hutchinson, 39, of Olympia Fields announced her run in early December. Her campaign team includes Evanston, Ill.-based The Strategy Group, whose members have worked for the past four Democratic Presidential nominees, including serving as top advisors to President Barack Obama during his candidacy.
- Running on a platform of “redemption,” former 2nd Congressional District Rep. Mel Reynolds, 60, announced his run in early December. Reynolds resigned from the seat in 1995 after being convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. He was also convicted of bank fraud in his 40s.
- Former State Representative Robin Kelly, a top aide to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, is vying for the seat. She ran for State Treasurer in 2010, but lost to Republican Judy Baar Topinka.
- Saying the district needed “a new leader, new ideas and new energy,” board president of the Orland, Ill. Fire Protection District, Jim Hickey announced his candidacy in a Nov. 29 press release.
- Independent Marcus Lewis, a postal worker who ran against Jackson in the general primaries in early 2012, announced his candidacy shortly after Jackson resigned.
- Attorney Larry Pickens, who is also a pastor within the United Methodist Church, announced plans to run.
- Chicago area minister and non-profit organizer Denise A. Hill, 27, announced her run in late December. As a first-time political contender, Hill said, “I want to be a public servant. For me this is an extension, serving the community I grew up in and I love so dearly, the chance to serve other people.”
- South Suburban attorney Ernest B. Fenton recently threw his hat in the ring. Advocating for more jobs, fixing the district’s housing crisis and a host of other issues like the other candidates, Fenton said, “I had been at the forefront of the foreclosure crisis since its inception. Predating the (downfall), I was trying to alarm certain municipalities of a looming crisis.”
- State Rep. Monique Davis announced her plans to run for Jackson Jr.’s seat at a luncheon in December.
State Sen. Donne Trotter was considered the frontrunner for the 2nd Congressional District. However, last week Trotter dropped out of the race following his early-December arrest at a Chicago airport after attempting to board a plane with an unloaded gun and bullets. Trotter said he forgot he had the gun in his bag after returning home from his job as a security guard the night before.
Earlier in the race for the 2nd Congressional District, many others were rumored to be running, including Jackson Jr.’s wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, his brother Jonathan Jackson, Attorney Sam Adam Jr., Ald. Will Burns, Sen. Kwame Raoul, former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. Although he was considering a run, Chicago “rooftop pastor” Corey Brooks decided not to compete for the seat.
Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.