Toi Hutchinson Robin Kelly Anthony Beale
Toi Hutchinson, Robin Kelly, and Anthony Beale


Early voting has started in the February 26th special election primary to select a successor to the disgraced Jesse Jackson, Jr. who resigned last November. In the heavily Democratic 2nd district, winning the primary means winning the seat in the April 9 general election. 

With its truncated campaign season, the race is likely to be low turnout—especially if the weather is nasty—and it’s definitely low information.

It sometimes seems that the campaign’s only issue is gun control—not surprising in the wake of the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton and President Obama’s upcoming stop in Chicago to discuss gun violence. But other issues must be of concern to 2nd district voters. How about job and business creation, for starters?

And then there’s the fact that in the Democratic primary alone 16 candidates are vying for this very big prize. (Open Congressional seats don’t come around too often, so why not give it a go?)  That’s only a bit better than when the special election was called. Ald. Will Burns dropped out; so did rookie state senator and former NFL running back Napoleon Harris; so did state senator Donne Trotter after getting caught bringing a gun on an airplane.

Others have raised little money and/or support—Sam Adams Jr. and Mel Reynolds, among the better-known names. Four candidates are running real campaigns—former state rep Robin Kelly, state senator Toi Hutchinson, Ald. Anthony Beale, and former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson. On many days, as I closely watch this race, it seems, to be a duel between Kelly and Hutchinson, at least on paper.

But who knows? With so many running, and voters sliced so thin, anyone could win.

When the Chicago Tribune endorsed Robin Kelly last month, it seemed a bigger deal to me than most endorsements,  which often carry negligible weight. 

As I read the paper’s brief for Kelly, I felt that something was missing—that would be an endorsement from the city-centric Sun-Times

But since its no-endorsement announcement in January 2012, the Sun-Times has skipped every race, including the Obama/Romney biggie and all those confusing judicial races in which smart editorial board members do the legwork that not even the most conscientious citizen could do.

I’ve asked Sun-Times editorial page editor Tom McNamee about resuming endorsements before,  and I asked him again, via email, Monday morning: “…any thought being given to a change in the policy?  Any regrets on that the paper's editorial voice is silent on this race?” His answer was unchanged from the one he gave me last October: “There's no change in the endorsement policy…”

Too bad. There’s a particularly compelling reason for the paper to weigh in this time. Fifteen of the 16 candidates are African American—former Congresswoman Halvorson is the only white candidate among them in a district that stretches from the city’s southeast side to Kankakee, and includes ailing city neighborhoods, the south suburbs, small rural towns, parts of Will and Kankakee counties. And the dreaded racial politics have openly reared their ugly head, not even bothering to don camouflage.

In late January, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed Hutchinson, giving the back of her hand to her former chief administrative officer, Robin Kelly. Preckwinkle, a savvy and plain-speaking pol, said that polling gave Halvorson, whom Preckwinkle argued was too conservative for the South Side and the south suburbs, a "tenuous lead," and that Hutchinson was the strongest opposition. "When asked if racial politics were at play," the Tribune's Rick Pearson reported, "Halvorson said, 'Absolutely. How could it not be?'"

(In this tangled race Preckwinkle’s pick, Hutchinson, had been state senator Halvorson’s chief of staff, and was appointed to complete Halvorson’s term in Springfield after Halvorson was elected to what would turn out to be just one term in Washington.)  

Preckwinkle is not the only pol issuing an endorsement. They’ve been flying all over the place, adding to the confusing trajectory of this race. Hutchinson also won the endorsement of AFSCME Council 31 as well as six state senators—Koehler, Lightford, Muñoz, Noland, Sandoval, and Steans. On Sunday, Congressmen Danny Davis and Bobby Rush endorsed Kelly. She already had endorsements from Napoleon Harris, Donne Trotter, Ald. Will Burns, Ald. Leslie Hairston, and Ald. Deborah Graham. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has endorsed Ald. Beale. 

So Preckwinkle is right; a ridiculously tiny number of voters could decide this primary on the Democratic side. (Five Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination and have no chance of victory unless ex-con and congressman Mel Reynolds wins the democratic primary).

In the meantime, Kelly is crowing about her F rating from the NRA and knotting an A rating from the NRA around the necks of Hutchinson and Halverson. 

The result sounds more like noise than clarity. The  Sun-Times editorial writers might have helped to lower the former and enhance the latter. 


Photograph: Chicago Tribune