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Kadner: Rough road ahead to special election for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat

Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale 9th Ward during first City Council meeting with new Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday May 18 2011.

Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, during the first City Council meeting with new Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday, May 18, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:27AM



It’s easier for candidates to say they’re running for Congress than it’s going to be for them to get their names on the ballot in the 2nd District.

You can add three more candidates to the growing list of those who want to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) made her campaign official in a news release Thursday, as did Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale (9th). Former state Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Matteson), who is now chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, scheduled a news conference for Sunday to announce her plans.

Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch and Richton Park Mayor Rick Reinbold told me they plan to be at the news conference in Matteson to support Kelly’s bid for the congressional seat. Rich Township Democratic committeeman Tim Bradford also says he will attend.

Beale has formed a campaign committee and retained the services of Evergreen Park election law attorney Burton Odelson and political advisor Delmarie Cobb to represent him.

Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, of Crete, and former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, of Dolton, previously announced they were in the race.

State Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) is also said to be interested, according to Democratic Party insiders. And newly elected state Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor) has been contacting suburban mayors soliciting support.

But wanting to run and being on the ballot Feb. 26, when a special primary election likely will occur, are two different things.

Democratic candidates in the 2nd District primary would likely have to collect at least 1,400 signatures on nominating petitions to get on the ballot. That’s compared to the 600 signatures candidates for the same office needed to collect for last March’s primary.

The reason for the increase is that the number of signatures required is based on one-half of 1 percent of the total number of votes cast in the district for the most popular candidate of that party in the most recent general election. The Democratic candidate getting the most votes Nov. 6 in the 2nd District was President Barack Obama.

State election officials said they had not yet computed the official numbers in that election (they will likely be announced on Monday), but I was told my 1,400 estimate was probably a good and conservative guess.

The filing date for petitions for the Feb. 26 special primary is likely to be the first week of January. So Democratic candidates will basically have one month to collect those 1,400 signatures.

Only registered voters can sign a nominating petition. If a person signs petitions for two or more candidates, the signatures could be thrown out if there’s a challenge to those petitions.

“There are going to be challenges,” Odelson said. “And some of those candidates aren’t going to survive the challenge to their petitions. Some might not even collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.”

Cobb, the political adviser to Beale who also worked on Jackson’s first campaign for Congress, agreed with Odelson.

“Having an experienced organization on the ground is going to be one of the keys,” Cobb said. “And Ald. Beale obviously has that sort of experienced base he can tap into.”

Odelson said he usually tells his clients to gather twice the number of signatures required by law.

“That would mean 2,800 signatures in the 2nd District, but that may not be realistic this time,” he said.

Odelson made his reputation by challenging signatures on election petitions early in his career but said, “I really don’t get enthusiastic about doing that kind of work any more. It just seems sort of ...”

But that’s the “sort of” that pays off for candidates who hire the best election lawyers, and they’re going to be at a premium in this congressional race.

Republican candidates considering a primary run, by the way, would need far fewer signatures on petitions because more than 80 percent of 2nd District voters chose Democratic candidates Nov. 6. (The district includes several wards on Chicago’s South Side, a large portion of south suburban Cook County, a small part of Will County and a larger part of Kankakee County.)

While 75 percent of the votes in the district Nov. 6 came from the south suburbs, Beale so far is the only announced candidate whose base is in Chicago.

Jackson received 61,000 votes in the Chicago portion of the district and 107,000 in the Cook County suburbs.

If Halvorson, Hutchinson, Kelly and other suburban-based candidates split the suburban vote, a candidate who dominated Chicago could win.

Kankakee and Will counties generated a total of about 65,000 votes for Republican and Democratic congressional candidates, but that portion of the 2nd District could play a key role in a multi-candidate race where Cook County loyalties are divided.

“Hutchinson has an office in Kankakee County that she created for her Senate race, and that could turn out to be a huge advantage,” one longtime political observer told me.

WMAQ-TV reporter Mary Ann Ahern recently asked me if I thought Halvorson could emerge victorious as the only white candidate in the race.

I said I didn’t think that would be a huge factor because so many white voters in the district had supported Jackson in the past.

But I’ve since had second thoughts. The district is less than 55 percent black. Halvorson is the only white candidate in the Democratic primary at this point. And her name is well known because she once represented a large portion of the district as a congresswoman and state senator.

It’s very possible race could be a factor in the outcome of the special election.

Of course, that would make Halvorson a likely target of a petition challenge as well.

Anyone can say they are running for office. But you have to get on the ballot to win.



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