Jesse Jackson Jr. rolls over Debbie Halvorson after bitter battle
By DAVE MCKINNEY, MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA AND JON SEIDEL Staff Reporters March 20, 2012 7:00PM
Jesse Jackson Jr. and Debbie Halvorson
Updated: March 20, 2012 11:08PM
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. blew past Democratic rival Debbie Halvorson in their bitter primary battle for his congressional seat on the South Side and nearby suburbs, surviving a pair of scandals that threatened his political viability.
“From Chicago to the suburbs all the way to Kankakee, we won them all. I have been elected and re-elected 10 times to Congress, and this time is the most meaningful,” Jackson told supporters at the Parkway Ballroom in Bronzeville.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Jackson had 71 percent of the vote compared to 29 percent for Halvorson, who called him to concede at about 8:45 p.m.
Appearing with his family and supporters at his side, Jackson also vowed in his victory speech to make construction of an airport near Peotone his No. 1 priority and bluntly urged Gov. Pat Quinn to share that urgency.
“Gov. Quinn, hear me clearly, build this airport now,” Jackson said.
The congressman’s political footing became unclear when he emerged as a focal point in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s criminal trial, when federal prosecutors outlined Jackson’s alleged efforts to trade campaign contributions for a gubernatorial appointment to the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
While no criminal charges against Jackson arose from that controversy and he denied wrongdoing, the congressman still faces potential fallout from an ongoing House ethics probe.
Jackson, who was first seated in Congress in 1995, also had to contend with allegations he secretly arranged airline trips for a woman Jackson later described as only a “social acquaintance.” His wife said that did not register with voters — just like the Blagojevich allegations.
“People in their everyday lives, when it comes to elected officials, care about having someone that cares about the things they care about. That’s the economy, jobs, food on the table. That’s what they care about. This other stuff, no. It did not resonate,” said Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th).
Even though he racked up 80 percent of the vote in previous elections, Jackson faced a spirited challenge from Halvorson, who served a term in Congress before losing in 2010 to U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
Halvorson made her loyalty to President Barack Obama one of the central themes of her campaign, noting in her advertising that she voted with him “90 percent of the time.” Jackson countered in a competing ad that, as a congresswoman, she voted “with the Republicans and against President Obama 88 times.”
At Halvorson’s campaign headquarters, the mood was somber almost from the moment the polls closed. Halvorson smiled — her staff sulked — and she tried to stay positive for the TV cameras when she arrived at her election-night party in a downtown Homewood bar.
She said she was happy about the outcome, and happy for Jackson, though he didn’t take her call when she tried to congratulate him. When the crowd had thinned and her opponent appeared on TV, though, she kept her back turned and sipped a beer.
“Nobody should be running for 17 years and not have an opponent,” Halvorson said. “It’s OK that they win, but don’t go for 17 years without having an opponent.”
She also let some disappointment show when she took a shot at Illinois’ political establishment and incumbents like state Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago), who won election despite facing a federal bribery charge.
“People can tell you that they want change, they want honesty, integrity,” Halvorson said. “But yet no matter what it is, the party leaders still come out for people who are ethically challenged, and it’s not just Congressman Jackson, but it’s others. I mean, Derrick Smith was just arrested for bribery. Party leaders still come out for people like that. And then when people vote for them, it’s kind of disappointing. But people still vote for it, people get what they deserve, and I’m happy for the outcome.”