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Miller: Political foes surprisingly silent on Trotter’s arrest

Updated: January 11, 2013 6:15AM



One of the most fascinating things about the media frenzy surrounding state Sen. Donne Trotter’s arrest last week was that not one of his Democratic opponents in the 2nd Congressional District immediately jumped in front of the cameras to comment about it.

They stayed quiet even when Trotter (D-Chicago) announced the next day, after bonding out of jail on a gun charge, that he wouldn’t drop out of the race to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

And still nothing was said after media reports revealed that the gun was not registered and that Trotter had not reported an outside security job on his financial disclosure reports.

Trotter was arrested Wednesday morning for allegedly attempting to bring an unloaded pistol and an ammo clip through a security checkpoint at O’Hare International Airport. Reporters swarmed the courthouse after Trotter posted bond Thursday and then, when he refused comment, some descended on his home on the South Side.

His arrest was one of the biggest news stories in the city, mainly because of his congressional bid, yet none of the dozen or so other prospective Democratic candidates in the 2nd District special election issued a statement or responded on the record to questions about his arrest or his unknown second job.

One campaign insider said late last week that his operation was maintaining a “no comment” stance regarding Trotter but marveled how it was “really amazing” that everybody had shown such restraint in a race that appears to be hotly contested. Well, Trotter is armed, I cracked.

All kidding aside, the political dynamics in black-majority political districts can be a lot different than in white districts. So many blacks have been arrested in this country that a candidate who piles on somebody right after they’re busted probably wouldn’t be received well by black voters — who make up most of the electorate in the 2nd District.

Plus, there’s an old political saw about how one should “never commit homicide when an opponent is committing suicide.”

Ironically, Trotter was arrested for allegedly violating a law that he voted for twice. Once a decade ago, when he voted to increase the penalties for his alleged violation from a misdemeanor to a felony.

And then again a few years ago when he moved that statutory language to another part of state law: “It is unlawful for any person to board or attempt to board any commercial or charter aircraft, knowingly having in his or her possession any firearm, explosive of any type or other lethal or dangerous weapon.”

Notice the word “knowingly” in the text. Trotter told police that he forgot he had the small, .25-caliber pistol and a separate ammo clip in his travel bag.

Trotter’s story is that he didn’t knowingly bring the gun through security, which seems logical because trying to do so at O’Hare would be a spectacularly stupid thing to do. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office, however, decided to charge him with a Class 4 felony, which carries a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine of up to $25,000.

A former state’s attorney in another county who once was a legislator said Trotter’s “I forgot” defense will be a “tough slog.”

“The case law on this provision (knowledge) is clear and well established,” the ex-prosecutor said in an email message. “About the only way I could see a possible defense under this provision would be if Donne picked up someone else’s luggage that looked just like his luggage and carried it to security without ‘knowing’ that it contained a gun — or that someone planted a gun in his luggage.”

He said he always liked Trotter, but the Chicago senator is “in a world of hurt with the law.” But he added it’s “ridiculous” that every unlawful use of a weapon charge is a felony.

“There is no misdemeanor provision of UUW available for first-time offenders,” he grumbled.

And word from inside is that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez may take a hard look at Trotter’s revelation about his special gun-carrying permit via a job with a Chicago security company.

Things could get very ugly or end very quickly. And his opponents may have jumped on Trotter by the time you read this.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.



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