Southsiders face off in 2nd district primary

Today’s Democratic primary will determine the likely candidate to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.

By Hamid Bendaas

Residents in parts of Chicago’s South Side and the southern suburbs will be casting their votes in the 2nd Congressional District primary today to decide the Democratic nominee expected to take the Congressional seat formerly held by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Front-runners among the 15 Democrats on the ballot are former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, Ninth Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, and Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly.

While the only area of Hyde Park included in the 2nd District is the streets east of Stony Island Avenue and south of 53rd Street, its influence on the race has been notable.

Hyde Park political figures like Alderman Will Burns, Congressman Bobby Rush, and State Senator Kwame Raoul have all endorsed Kelly and supported her campaign. Cheryl Whitaker, wife of University of Chicago Medical Center’s Executive Vice President of Strategic Affiliations Eric Whitaker and friend of the Obamas, signed on to be Kelly’s campaign chair.

“I think we’ve had a significant impact on the race, but I wouldn’t say it’s inordinate,” Cheryl Whitaker reflected. “[Kelly] has a list of supporters that is quite extensive, but we were early supporters, and I’d like to think we’ve been instrumental bringing others to the table to support her.”

Whitaker also saw major projects in the Hyde Park area as integral issues affecting the larger South Side, including the 2nd District, like job creation.

“If we can fund the Promontory Point Project, if we can fund the bridge at South Shore Drive and 67th Street, those projects would bring needed jobs to the South Side and improve quality of life here. They go hand in hand.”

An early surprise in the race occurred when State Senator Toi Hutchinson, considered by some to be the biggest challenger to Kelly and Halvorson for much of the campaign, dropped out of the race on February 17.

Another major story of the race has been the influence of a pro–gun control super-PAC started by Mayor Bloomberg in October. The super-PAC has spent $2.1 million on television ads attacking Halvorson, who has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), and endorsing the “F”-rated Kelly.

According to Kevin Lampe, a political strategist and former consultant to Jesse Jackson, Jr., the ads might have influenced Hutchinson to drop out of the race, as Hutchinson had an “A-” rating from the NRA, and the ads began to attack her as well.

“The Bloomberg money makes a big difference, because the Kelly campaign didn’t have to spend any money on television attacking the perceived frontrunner [Halvorson].”

Whitaker was wary of the influence of PACs in these types of elections.

“I do think that’s going to be a new thing that we see in American politics. I can’t say I agree with it—in this case it’s benefiting my candidate—but overall, I think [for] congressional races that the wars should be at the grassroots level, trying to connect with voters on the ground.”

Though a late poll showed Halvorson with a slim lead, Lampe predicted Kelly would win the primary, with Anthony Beale coming in “a strong second.” Beale had made the need for a trauma center a part of his platform and attended a forum on campus addressing the issue.

Lampe recognized the trauma center as an issue important to the South Side, but he didn’t think it was enough to overcome Kelly’s image as the anti-NRA candidate. “I don’t think it’s as emotional [as gun control] or as easy to explain. But it’s a good campaign issue, and he’s got a good record to run on.”