With nearly two dozen candidates in the special election race to replace former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., all eyes are on Chicago’s 2nd district which has suddenly become a proxy fight in the debate over gun violence prevention.
Leading the field right now is Illinois former state representative Robin Kelly, who is ahead in of Rep. Debbie Halvorson in a number of polls going into today’s special primary.
A third candidate, Ald. Anthony Beale, who was mentored by Jackson Jr., is also a factor. The odds are on Kelly, who just snagged New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement and financial backing provide by his Super PAC.
Independence USA has put nearly $2 million dollars into the race to block Halvorson’s path to success because she is a vocal advocate for gun owners rights, at a time when Chicago’s gun violence is receiving national attention. Mayor Bloomberg’s Super PAC is running scathing attack ads in the race, focusing on Halverson’s A+ rating from the NRA. The ads previously pushed Toi Huntchinson, another candidate with an A+ NRA rating, out of the race.
Mayor Bloomberg has been a passionate voice for stricter gun laws for years and especially in the wake of the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.
In many ways, the victor in Chicago today may predict the salience of the issue of gun violence at the ballot box.
Bloomberg’s Super PAC is also investing in races further away from New York than Chicago. Independence USA has also dished out $1 million in the Los Angeles Unified school board race.
Mayor Bloomberg is aligned closely with L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in terms of public funding for charter schools and this donation to an independent expenditure committee Villaraigosa started years ago, called Coalition for School Reform, was created to allow Villaraigosa to garner influence over the school board. The candidates supported by the Coalition and opposed by the teacher’s union are board president Monica Garcia and newcomers Antonio Sanchez and Kate Anderson.
These huge donations certainly highlight the influence of Super PACs on local elections which are more impactful than on the national level. Bloomberg is putting his money where his policies align, but some critics say it’s not appropriate for the mayor of New York to insert himself into local elections outside of the Big Apple.
New York’s Deputy Mayor of Government Affairs and Communications Howard Wolfson told theGrio, “Money in politics is nothing new. There has been a lot of money in politics for a long time. Regarding the gun issue, the NRA has over many decades spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections. [In terms of education] unions basically had this field to themselves and now you have another point of view.”
“There are a set of issues that [Mayor Bloomberg] feels passionately about. Gun safety is one of them. Education reform is another. [Also] same sex marriage. He believes that the way you influence the debate is by influencing who the debaters are,” says Wolfson. “Chicago is a bellwether,” when it comes to the issue of gun safety.
Bloomberg’s Super PAC also put a significant amount of money into the 2012 election cycle. “[Independence USA] spent $10 million last November and had some real success. [Now they have] put a couple of million into this race in Illinois and we’ll see how that turns out today. We feel very strongly that we need to advocate for a set of policies that make sense.”
Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell