Democratic leaders spent four hours Saturday listening to 16 candidates audition for the party's endorsement to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., but were unable to solidify behind one contender.
After 90 minutes of deliberations, South Side and south suburban committeemen voted for an “open primary,” after Thornton Township chairman Frank Zuccarelli failed to win a majority of the weighted vote on behalf of veteran state Sen. Donne Trotter of Chicago.
Trotter spoke the longest and also gained the most praise among as he appeared for nearly 40 minutes before Democratic leaders of the six Chicago wards and five suburban Cook County townships in the 2nd Congressional District.
Also voting at the slating session were the Democratic chairmen of Will and Kankakee counties, which have a few primary voters in the district. The special primary election is scheduled Feb. 26 and given the strong Democratic makeup of the new district, it is tantamount to winning the office. The general election is scheduled April 9.
The slating event at times drew more than 100 people into a small meeting room, including several of the district’s municipal officials, plenty of political operatives, and Cook County Commissioner William Beavers. Beavers, who is awaiting trial on federal charges related to his campaign fund, said he was not backing a candidate but instead wanted to “watch the show.”
Zuccarelli wielded 30 percent of the weighted vote, the single biggest block. Almost two-thirds of the district’s vote cast in Cook County in March was in the suburbs. Zuccarelli declined to publicly release the vote totals.
“We have about a half dozen really good candidates, really remarkable candidates, and we’d be well served to have any of those people represent us,” Zuccarelli told other slatemakers before they deliberated.
“But there is truly no better choice for us in the 2nd Congressional District, especially right now, than Donne Trotter,” Zuccarelli said. “We will be losing him as our state senator who has produced more money and more good things for our township than all of our state reps and senators combined over the last 20 years. … But we feel that there’s an opportunity right now with our president, the next four years, his eye is on Illinois and we need somebody that can jump in, represent the 2nd Congressional District and represent all of the people and understand the issues that are very pertinent to us at the state and local level.”
But Will County Democratic Chairman Scott Pyles chastised Trotter for not having contacted him about Trotter’s interest in the contest, and wanted a commitment Trotter would work closely with Will and Kankakee County officials if elected.
Trotter said he was uniquely qualified for the job based on his 24 years in the state legislature, including his long-time role as the state Senate Democratic point man on state budget issues. He also contended he would be quickly able to step into a job that has been largely vacant since Jackson left Congress on a medical leave last June. Jackson resigned the seat last month.