November 28, 2012
That horde of candidates in the 2nd District trying to succeed former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Bud Light, is a wondrous sight.
It reaffirms my belief in the goodness of people, since most of the hopefuls are no doubt fueled by the principled desire to serve the residents of a troubled district.
OK, sure, some just want the title and the chance to shake that federal money tree. And some don't have a clue. But every day, another candidate emerges to grab the ring of power.
The ambitious horde has definitely aggravated some politicos, like state Rep. Monique Davis, who on Tuesday called in to WLS-AM 890, where I've been filling in on a midmorning talk show with co-host Jake Hartford. She called us with a message.
Davis said she didn't like pretenders who'd never held public office making a play for Congress. And she promised to drop a dime on them and tell their stories to the media.
"Well, if they choose to run, their history will definitely be told!" Davis said.
"They just want a job."
Some candidates will push and shove. Some will play the race card. It could get ugly. And finally, someone will emerge.
Do you want me to tell you who I think will be the one? OK. If you promise to keep it just between us:
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, married and mother of three, a serious and competent woman who grew up in the suburban part of the predominantly African-American district.
I think she can get the support of Democratic Party leaders. And at age 39, she's young enough to be worth their investment, since winning clout in Congress takes years of climbing that seniority ladder to the most influential committees.
This isn't my endorsement of Hutchinson, just an assessment of her chances.
Hutchinson's first political job was with Debbie Halvorson, the only announced white candidate in the race. Halvorson was trounced by an indifferent and absent Jackson in the primary, but Halvorson at least has some semblance of a campaign infrastructure.
With so many African-American candidates crawling all over each other, black leaders worry that they'll split the black vote. Only foolish candidates play that card publicly. And Hutchinson isn't foolish. She's not playing to race. She's wisely playing to gender.
"For me this is not about who I can beat, it's about what we can do," she told us in an interview. "I think women candidates tend to — men go (into politics) to be something, women go to do something.
"I think women have a different way of negotiating conflict. I'm in the Legislature; if I can deal with three teenage kids, I can deal with the Legislature," she said, laughing. "We tend to be more collaborative, and my hope, and this is what I want for my own district because I'm a resident, too, is that we don't need to be talked at, we need to be talked to and listened to. We've been through a lot out here. It's just time for a new way to approach things."
The Jackson way was an embarrassment, especially his decision to stand for re-election while under federal criminal investigation and then to use the office to leverage a possible plea deal with prosecutors.
For decades, the 2nd has been run by men who've embarrassed their constituents.
Consider former Rep. Augustus "Gus" Savage, a feisty little guy with herky-jerky movements. He was a player and had problems with women and problems with his mouth.
Savage's main scandal was the accusation that he forcibly fondled a young Peace Corps volunteer while on an official visit to Zaire. He said it was all a lie, ginned up by his political enemies and by that old white racist media. Later he wrote the young woman a letter saying he "never intended to offend."
Savage ran for re-election anyway and played the victim/race card, and while it embarrassed his district, it worked. He won.
Later, in an unrelated job-trading scandal, he went on a tirade against news reporters. He accused a prominent Chicago TV journalist of wearing women's underwear. He accused another TV guy of molesting little boys.
Good times. Fun times. Nothing beats Chicago politics.
Unfortunately for Savage, he lost to the reformer Mel Reynolds.
Reynolds was later caught up in two separate scandals. He did prison time on federal fraud charges, and he also was convicted of an improper sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl. When that girl told Reynolds that a 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl also might have sex with him, he memorably replied, "Did I win the Lotto?"
And now Reynolds is making noises as if he'd like another run.
What's his campaign slogan? "Vote for Mel, win the Lotto"?
Jackson took the House seat after Reynolds. He had no experience, but he did have a powerful father. He was installed, like human furniture, the Chicago Way.
Most of you know that Jackson jammed himself up with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the plot to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Jackson was never charged, but anyone with a brain harbors questions about his role in the matter.
Later he ran into other forms of trouble, including a blond bikini model and a federal probe of campaign expenses.
Now there's a free-for-all for his job. And Rep. Davis wanted to remind the candidates of their obligations.
"I'm just saying to them that you're not going to fool the public. You cannot do it. This position is too important. You cannot go to Washington and just be a social butterfly or a person who's enjoying the ladies."
No indeed. Holding the 2nd District seat is a sacred obligation, as long as you keep your hands to yourself.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC