Robin Kelly, the Democrat running for the US House seat previously held by disgraced former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., is considered a virtual lock to win the general election Tuesday for the seat, which has been in Democratic hands for decades.
No drama there.
But what is especially encouraging for her party is that Ms. Kelly, an Illinois state representative who has been endorsed by President Obama and indirectly received support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for her stance on gun control, is that her political record is scandal-free, a true breath of fresh air for this district.
Kelly, who handily won the special primary in February in this heavily Democratic area, faces five opponents Tuesday, led by Republican Paul McKinley, a Chicago resident who focused his campaign on a narrative of turning his life around after serving about 16 years in prison for robbery, burglary and aggravated battery. He says he opposes new gun control measures. Also running are three independent candidates and another running on the Green Party ticket.
Mayor Bloomberg’s support has made Kelly rather formidable. His organization, Independence USA PAC, invested more than $2 million in political ads during the primary. While Debbie Halverson, Kelly’s Democratic primary challenger, criticized the outside spending, it nonetheless sunk Ms. Halverson’s campaign with ads that criticized the favorable “A” rating she once earned from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Indeed, gun control and safety are expected to become Kelly’s top focus in Congress. In her primary victory speech, she directly challenged the NRA, saying “their days of holding our country hostage are coming to and end,” and vowed to support bans on assault weapons and conceal carry permits as well as measures closing the loophole for the sale of weapons at gun shows.
However, for Chicago Democrats weary of political scandal, Kelly’s brightest promise may be in the break she represents from the legacy of Mr. Jackson and his predecessor. Jackson was once a shining star of the party, for his famous last name, youth, 17-year incumbency in Congress, and role on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. But all of that crumbled in February when Jackson pled guilty to federal corruption charges involving $750,000 in campaign funds spent over a 7-year period for personal gain. He resigned his seat last November.
The seat was similarly associated with corruption even before Jackson’s time. His predecessor, Mel Reynolds, a Democrat, left office amid a scandal in 1995 when he was convicted of fraud and having sex with a minor.
Kelly’s record in state government, as a state representative between 2003 and 2007 was without controversy, and as chief administrative officer of Cook County in 2011, she is associated with a new regime that swept in measures that reform advocates said were lacking for years.
“Because of her experience, she’s not likely to get caught up in corruption scandals,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago who specializes in corruption at the state and city level.
Professor Simpson said that Kelly, who is black, is not expected to have major clout as a freshman House member, but she is being looked at as a fresh, young face for a Congressional Black Caucus that is in need of new ideas and energy.
The clout she will carry is on the gun control issue, considering her district encompasses a small section of Chicago’s far South Side, where homicides spiked last summer and continued to surge upward.
“She’ll lead off with gun control because that’s what got her elected, and she can be pretty persuasive because so many people have been killed in her district by guns,” Simpson says. “She will be a solid vote for President Obama and his policies, not just on gun control, but other issues he will push.”
However, some say her freshman status may weaken her ability to get things accomplished, despite her strong ties with Obama.
Charles Griffin, mayor of Ford Heights, a Chicago suburb in the congressional district, said Kelly is facing “an insurmountable task” because of partisan politics that have put Congress in gridlock.
“When a freshman person goes in dealing with guys who are well-grounded and unwilling to negotiate, nothing’s going to transfer,” Mayor Griffin told the Associated Press Tuesday.