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Kadner: Suburbs must claim Jesse Jackson Jr.’s district

U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr. (file)

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (file)

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:31AM



The 2nd Congressional District is overwhelmingly suburban.

When Jesse Jackson Jr. announced his resignation as congressman from the district Wednesday, there was a lot of speculation on who might run for office in an upcoming special election.

But no one seemed to notice that nearly 75 percent of the votes cast in the 2nd District race in November came from the suburbs of Cook and Will counties, along with rural areas of Will and Kankakee counties.

Jackson received 61,046 votes in Chicago; 107,773 votes in suburban Cook County; 7,625 votes (out of 22,552 ballots cast) in Will County; and 11,828 (of 44,418 votes) in the portion of Kankakee County that is in his district.

The district is less than 55 percent black.

Reconfigured by a 2011 remap, the district includes Chicago’s 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 34th wards, runs from Burnham and Blue Island to Frankfort and Crete, and at its southern end includes Bourbonnais, Bradley and Kankakee.

My point is that this new district by composition is designed for a suburban candidate, even though Jackson lived in Chicago.

According to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, 76,506 ballots were cast in the city portion of the 2nd District this month. Suburban and rural residents cast 220,161 votes in the race.

That means any Chicago-based candidate would start out with a huge disadvantage if he were facing a suburban candidate one-on-one.

Speculation indicates the field will be much larger than that, with state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields); former state Reps. David Miller and Robin Kelly; and former Northwestern University football player Napoleon Harris, of Flossmoor (who was just elected to the state Senate this month), among a few of the suburban-based candidates mentioned as eyeing a run.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), defense attorney Sam Adam Jr., and Jackson’s wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), are some of the Chicago-based candidates mentioned as possible contenders.

I’m not sure why so many people would want to be a congressman.

You’ve got to split time between Washington, D.C., and Illinois, which would not only make life difficult for anyone who is committed to raising a young family but also is quite costly.

Even when you’re back home, you’ve got to make appearances at numerous civic, religious and political lunches and dinners.

And because a congressman serves for only two years, he is constantly raising money for his next campaign or meeting with lobbyists interested in buying his vote on a particular piece of legislation.

Finally, it is difficult for any freshman congressman to make a real impact because there are 435 members of the House and seniority means everything.

The House is controlled by the Republicans, which means that a Democrat would have even less influence.

Of course, everyone will refer to the next congressman from the 2nd District as the “Distinguished Gentleman” or the “Honorable Congresswoman” from Illinois, no matter how misleading those descriptions may be.

The pay is pretty good, $174,000 to start, not including health insurance benefits. And there are fact-finding trips across the globe and other perks that don’t show up on paper.

Lost in all the recent talk about scandal in the 2nd District are the real issues impacting the voters.

Unemployment and foreclosure rates in many portions of the district — which includes Ford Heights, Harvey, Chicago Heights, Calumet City and Sauk Village — are among the highest in the nation.

Jackson’s pet project was construction of a south suburban airport.

But the old U.S Steel South Works Plant along the lakefront, which has been abandoned for two decades, remains an undeveloped jewel.

Infrastructure improvements such as roads and sewers are needed to make it possible for residential and business use.

This is 470 acres of prime Chicago real estate that could create jobs and housing for people in desperate need.

Jackson was working on the U.S. Park Service to get the historic Pullman neighborhood declared a national park.

But congressional offices also provide important constituent services — helping people get visas, resolving disputes for relatives of U.S. citizens over immigration issues, nominating candidates for the military academies, helping people with Social Security and Medicare problems and assisting civic groups with applications for government grants.

Jackson’s former office staff will remain in place performing most of those constituent services, but it now reports to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives instead of working for a congressman.

The south suburban region of the district needs a voice that will speak for it, but more importantly requires that the next congressman put the needs of common folk before his own.

The president, it should not be forgotten, is from Illinois. He knows the problems of many of the suburbs I mentioned earlier.

In the next four years, it would be essential that the congressman from the 2nd District of Illinois get Barack Obama’s ear and make a plea for support that would bring jobs, transportation improvements and economic development to the area.

But keep a watchful eye on Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a cunning political operative. I can’t image him sitting on the sidelines as this congressional election plays itself out.



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