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Bringing lawyer to Dem slating session not a great idea for Donne Trotter

State Sen. Donne Trotter leaves after posting bond Cook County Criminal Courts Building Thursday. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

State Sen. Donne Trotter leaves after posting bond at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building on Thursday. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 14, 2013 7:34AM

Thomas Anthony Durkin, state Sen. Donne Trotter’s criminal defense lawyer, said Wednesday he may accompany his client this weekend to the Democratic Party’s endorsement session to pick a candidate for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat in Congress.

Durkin suggested that possibility when reporters asked how his client would handle questions from party bosses about his felony arrest last week for trying to bring a gun through O’Hare Airport security.

Trotter continued Wednesday to decline to answer those questions from reporters, leaving the talking to Durkin, although the always dapper Chicago Democrat did step to the microphones, in his purple paisley bow tie, long enough to call Jackson “one of our greatest champions.”

I’ve got to say, even in the long and sometimes sordid history of Illinois Democratic politics, that would almost have to be a first: a candidate bringing his criminal lawyer to a slating session. While Durkin said no decision had been made, the fact that it’s even under consideration is evidence of the potentially bizarre nature of Saturday’s meeting of Democratic committeemen in which Trotter actually shapes up as one of the favorites for his party’s backing.

I do not expect him to be endorsed, mind you. In fact, I’m not expecting anybody to be endorsed, as long as Thornton Township Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli stands by his stated support for Trotter.

Zuccarelli is hardly a household word with Chicago voters, but he has the biggest say in who gets the party’s support in this case because Thornton Township produces the largest share of Democratic votes in the 2nd Congressional District — 25 percent in the last primary election. That gives Zuccarelli 25 percent of the weighted vote, which makes it very difficult for any other candidate to get a majority without him.

The committeeman with next highest vote count, 14 percent, is Tim Bradford of Rich Township. He endorsed former state Rep. Robin Kelly, of Matteson, a top aide to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

After that comes Bloom Township Committeman Terry Matthews, who hasn’t publicly committed to anyone but is expected to throw his 11 percent of the vote to Sen. Toi Hutchinson, of Olympia Fields.

That helps explain why another candidate, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) told our political reporter Natasha Korecki this week that it’s mathematically impossible for anybody to get a majority on Saturday.

With the 2nd District long represented by Jackson, many Chicagoans have come to think of this as a city seat, but that’s no longer true. All the city committeemen combined have only one-third of the weighted vote.

Beale’s ward accounts for only 8 percent, and his only declared supporter, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), has just 3 percent.

Ironically enough, the city committeeman with the most say in picking someone to support for Jackson’s seat is his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th). She has 10 percent of the vote, one big reason most of the other candidates have refrained from criticizing the recently resigned congressman.

None of the other city committeemen will have as much influence as the Democratic chairman of Will and Kankakee counties, each with a little less than 6 percent.

Will County’s Scott Pyles said he’s inclined to support former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, while Kankakee’s John Willard said he’s for Hutchinson.

Trotter said Wednesday he also expects support from his own 8th Ward committeeman, Michelle Harris, who has less than 4 percent of the weighted voted. “We’re not through counting votes yet,” Trotter said.

Actually, I think he can quit now.

It’s probably just as well if no candidate gets the endorsement as it would be little guarantee of actual voter support and might be used against anyone who receives it.

Getting the party’s endorsement, though, was probably Trotter’s only chance of winning, and if he fails in that regard Saturday, you’d expect him to rethink his candidacy and concentrate on his legal problems. He probably should anyhow.

Trotter’s court case was continued until Jan. 17, and Durkin predicted Cook County prosecutors will seek to have him indicted in the meantime. Durkin argues somewhat persuasively that Trotter should not have been charged with a felony because he didn’t know he was carrying the gun in his luggage.

I tend to believe that, although I find absolutely preposterous Trotter’s claim that he had the gun because he’d been working late the previous night as a security guard.

If he seriously wants to run for Congress, he is going to have to explain why he was carrying that gun — without his lawyer at his side.

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