Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg Buys Illinois’s 2nd District Congressional Seat

Robin Kelly easily won Jesse Jackson Jr.’s old seat, aided by a low turnout and a big PAC ad buy that opponent Debbie Halvorson couldn’t match.

Robin Kelly congresswoman
Robin Kelly on primary election night

 

The “race” for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat wasn’t a race. Yesterday’s election in the 2nd District of Illinois wasn’t even an election; it was a transaction.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the richest men in the world, paid $2.2 million (via his SuperPAC, Independence USA), to put Robin Kelly into our congressional delegation. The 56-year-old Kelly, a relative unknown—New York-born but educated at Peoria’s Bradley University—exited her last public office, state rep, in 2006, having served just two terms. Her last boss, Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle, endorsed her only after Preckwinkle’s pick, Toi Hutchinson, dropped out of the race after Bloomberg flooded the district with money.

Kelly’s major opponent, Debbie Halvorson, got 14,525 votes, under half of Kelly’s 30,799. (Voter turnout was miserably low, an estimated 15 percent in the city and suburban Cook County.)

Halvorson raised a pitiful $100,000 ($25,000 of that a personal loan) and couldn’t afford any television ads, while the Bloomberg ads, Halvorson quipped last night, ran “every 7 1/2 minutes.”

Chicago alderman Anthony Beale also faced the Bloomberg ad and mailer avalanche and performed even more pathetically, garnering just 6,255 votes, about 10.5 percent. Halvorson mostly hid her bitterness in her concession speech, but Beale didn’t bother, charging “FEC violations that forbid campaigns and SuperPACs from coordinating…” and adding, “…if this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble.”

Yes, the Bloomberg cash which decided this special primary is an antidote to the NRA, which has poisoned the campaigns of countless candidacies over the decades by destroying anyone who hazarded a peep about sensible gun control. Kelly won Bloomberg’s support because of her F grade from the NRA during her short stay in Springfield. Toi Hutchinson (whom Preckwinkle and many others thought had the race wrapped) and Debbie Halvorson (the former congresswoman and the only viable white candidate in a field of 16) had earned NRA A’s—the scarlet letter in this gun-violence-plagued district.

And then there’s the role of Mayor Emanuel. Cameron Joseph, a reporter for The Hill, wrote that “according to sources,” Rahm Emanuel “worked quietly behind the scenes to clear the field and stop Halvorson….”  Rahm’s role will eventually be known… probably around the time the Daleys’ role in Rahm’s election as mayor is known. One thing is certain: Bloomberg would not have come into Rahm’s backyard—the district covers some of the city’s south side—without Rahm’s welcome. 

Too bad that Rahm didn’t ask his friend Mike Bloomberg—and they are personal friends; in fact, Bloomberg could be a key funder of a Rahm run for the presidency in 2016 or 2020—to use that two million-plus on that basketball program the mayor is setting up. Or some other program to keep children whose parents can’t afford after-school soccer or French lessons involved in exciting, challenging, compelling activities, activities that might actually be an alternative to joining a gang.

At dawn on March 21, 2012, the morning after his victory in the Democratic primary, Jesse Jackson Jr. showed up in the middle of the intersection of 95th and Stony Island holding a sign that read “Thank You!  Jr.” The sign should have specifically thanked members of the General Assembly who gerrymandered his district so that he’d never have a real opponent, allowing him to  use campaign cash to adorn himself, his wife, and their houses.  

Robin Kelly was out this morning, at the Richton Park Metra station, to thank 2nd District voters. She should have followed Jr.’s example of hoisting a sign, but hers should have read,  “Thank You Mike!”

In her victory speech—mostly about banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazine clips and closing the  gun show loophole—she thanked the Obamas’ buddy Cheryl Whitaker, her campaign chairwoman, and mentioned President Obama and Rahm Emanuel (as partners in stopping gun violence),  but she forgot to mention the New York mayor.

For Bloomberg, a passionate proponent of gun control, the victory was undoubtedly worth the price. He carries it with him to Washington this morning to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sen. John McCain. And in other good timing, today there is also a Senate Judiciary hearing on a proposal to ban assault weapons.

Robin Kelly will be the next congresswoman from the 2nd district—there is a general election on April 9th, but the Republican can’t win in this gerrymandered district. The leader by 23 votes in the GOP primary, Paul McKinley, is a self-described convicted felon who served nearly 20 years in prison.

Here’s some words of advice for the congresswoman-in-waiting: check with Bloomberg or his associates every time you cast  a vote. He put you there and, come next election, he can yank you from your seat and pluck someone else down in your place. 

Oh, and don’t be been seen carrying  one of those jumbo soft drinks that the Mayor went after in New York. And keep away from the saltshaker. And, no matter how important the issue of jobs and economic development is for the largely blighted 2nd District, don’t ever forget that gun control is issue number one.

If there is any bright spot in this primary it’s that former congressman Mel Reynolds, who served prison time for state sex-related charges—including child pornography and having sex with a 16-year-old girl—and later on for federal fraud charges, including bank fraud and converting campaign funds to personal use (sound familiar?), collected only 453 votes.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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