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February 13, 2013

Guns dominate race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

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"The Newtown tragedy touched so many hearts, it raised the prominence of the issue, even in a city that's seen rampant gun violence. ... And I think Hadiya helped people to see our pain," said the Rev. Scott Onque of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago. "Those are tragedies that let you know that something has to happen. It makes you think we have to start talking about it a little more."

Jackson resigned his seat in November, shortly after winning his ninth term despite a months-long leave of absence. In his resignation letter, he cited his ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder and acknowledged he is under federal investigation.

Jackson's departure after 17 years in office left the field wide open. Nearly two dozen people — most Democrats — quickly jumped in. Party officials held a slating session to try to unite behind one candidate for the Feb. 26 primary, but no one came away with enough votes to be the official party favorite.

Though four or five candidates moved to the front of the pack, their positions on most issues mirrored one another, making it difficult for candidates to distinguish themselves.

Then Newtown happened. Within weeks, Chicago closed the year with 506 homicides, and Obama proposed a series of initiatives aimed at stemming gun violence.

A handful of candidates saw an opportunity to draw a distinction.

"As far as genuine issues (where candidates differ) there are few," said Don Rose, a longtime analyst of Chicago politics. "I don't think any of them when they first filed for office realized this gun issue was going to take such prominence. This was kind of thrust upon them."

State Sen. Donne Trotter was among the favorites before his December arrest at O'Hare. Trotter said he had been working the night before as a security guard and had forgotten the gun was in his bag. But he dropped out a month later, saying he didn't want the charges to become a distraction in the race.

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