Brown: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put Robin Kelly top of the heap
BY MARK BROWN February 26, 2013 8:42PM
Updated: March 28, 2013 6:53AM
Most of the credit — or blame — for former state Rep. Robin Kelly’s lopsided win Tuesday in the special Democratic primary for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat will properly center on the $2.2 million ad campaign on her behalf by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Even her media consultant Eric Adelstein calls Bloomberg’s involvement the “game-changer.”
But not to be underestimated are the steps Kelly took to put herself in position to be the beneficiary of Bloomberg’s help — embracing gun control as her main issue from the first days of the campaign and doggedly sticking with it while her opponents were still dismissing guns as a significant concern of voters in the 2nd Congressional District.
The Kelly campaign produced a textbook example of how a candidate can break out of the pack in a short election cycle, albeit one that still might have died on the vine without the dubious role of Bloomberg’s Independent USA PAC.
It’s easy to forget that when Jackson resigned three months ago, there weren’t many people who would have bet on Kelly taking the stage at the Matteson Holiday Inn on election night as the party nominee and Jackson’s heir apparent.
Yet there she was coasting to victory.
In the multi-candidate field emerging in late November, Kelly stacked up as just another face in a crowd that would eventually put 16 Democratic names on Tuesday’s ballot.
Though regarded as a serious candidate — a former legislator with an unsuccessful statewide run for treasurer and a stint as a top aide to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle under her belt — Kelly had no obvious calling card to elevate her above others with similar credentials.
On top of that, there was a perception in the political community that Kelly hadn’t waged a strong campaign in losing the treasurer’s race to Republican Dan Rutherford and hadn’t proven to be much of a fund-raiser along the way.
Then Kelly made gun control her calling card, capitalizing on as issue that clearly differentiated her from the two other leading women in the field, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson.
Although Halvorson and Hutchinson were old Kelly friends, she attacked them mercilessly as friends of the NRA — contrasting her own “F” rating with their past support from the gun group. Questions about her toughness disappeared.
At every opportunity and at the risk of being labeled a Johnny-one-note, Kelly stressed guns, while Halvorson and Hutchinson kept trying to shrug her off.
Events in the news played into her hands: the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut.; the arrest of another candidate, Sen. Donne Trotter, on a gun possession charge; and finally the shooting death of honor student Hadiya Pendleton on Chicago’s South Side.
Kelly’s gun views won her an endorsement from the ultraliberal Daily Kos website, which boosted her fund-raising and helped dispel another knock on her prospects.
Even a decision by Preckwinkle to endorse Hutchinson, undercutting one of Kelly’s main talking points, didn’t slow Kelly’s momentum.
By the time Bloomberg’s PAC joined the race, the first federal campaign since Sandy Hook and the mayor’s vow to take on the NRA, Kelly was the obvious person for him to back.
“If she hadn’t shown she was viable, there’s no way she gets that kind of help,” Adelstein said Tuesday.
At the finish line, it all looked so obvious. One forgets the muddle at the start.
CORRECTION — In Tuesday’s column, I incorrectly identified the owners of the Ewing Annex Hotel. It is owned by brothers Randy and Wayne Cohen. Another brother, Scott Lee Cohen, is not in involved.