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Who could fill Jackson’s seat?

Updated: December 10, 2012 6:35AM



If Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigns as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, you can expect it to set off a mad scramble to replace him with elections as early as this spring, depending on how quickly he steps down.

That presumes a lot of facts not in evidence, as the lawyers would say.

Not only has Jackson not been charged, there’s no official confirmation of the Washington-based investigation reported to be closing in on the embattled 17-year congressman for alleged misuse of campaign funds.

Throw in the fact that Jackson is still hospitalized for treatment of bipolar disorder and you can understand why potential replacements are laying back. But you’d better believe that the jockeying to replace him is already well under way behind the scenes without anyone waiting for such niceties.

Even before Michael Sneed’s report in Thursday’s Sun-Times that Jackson is in plea discussions, potential candidates were positioning themselves for the possibility.

Now that we’re past Tuesday’s election, there is no longer any chance of a “switcheroo” orchestrated by Democratic Party bosses to pick a replacement candidate.

That means we would need a special election: first a primary and then a general election. When a similar vacancy arose four years ago, after Rahm Emanuel resigned his congressional seat in early December to become President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, the primary was on March 3 and the general election on April 7 to coincide with already scheduled suburban elections.

Next year’s suburban elections are scheduled for April 9. Holding the election in that time frame would require Jackson to resign his 2nd Congressional District seat in the next month, which seems fairly unlikely.

Any special election would shape up as a free-for-all. Anyone and everyone could jump into the race without concern over giving up their current position, usually a major consideration for public officials during a normal election cycle.

In the special election to fill Emanuel’s seat, there were 12 candidates in the Democratic primary, and Mike Quigley won.

Among Democrats consistently mentioned as possible Jackson replacements are:

† Ald. Sandi Jackson: The congressman’s wife is thought to be interested in keeping her husband’s seat. The 7th Ward alderman is an experienced political operative with her own claim to the Jackson political base, although it’s unclear whether she will emerge unscathed from his legal woes, which allegedly include using his campaign funds to decorate their Washington home.

† Jonathan Jackson: The congressman’s brother, a Chicago businessman and national spokesman for their father’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, is said to be preferred by the rest of the Jackson family over Sandi. Obviously, both couldn’t run, but it might be messy for a while until they sort that out.

† Ald. Anthony Beale: The 9th Ward alderman always has been considered an ally of the Jacksons but seems to be ready to step out. Beale declined to comment.

† Sen. Toi Hutchinson: The former Olympia Fields village clerk, one of several south suburban rising stars in the Legislature, told me she has been too busy with her own re-election to look ahead, but she noted that she already represents much of the south end of the 2nd District.

† Sen. Kwame Raoul: Barack Obama’s replacement in the state Senate doesn’t live in the 2nd District, but he represents a large chunk of it. When I spoke to him, he sounded content to stay where he is for now.

† Napoleon Harris: The former NFL and Northwestern linebacker was elected as a state senator Tuesday, which could make a move problematic, but he is said to have both the money and the ambition.

† Robin Kelly: The former state representative, who lost a bid for state treasurer, now serves as chief administrative officer to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. In a written statement, Kelly said her “first concern is for Jesse’s health and recovery” and that she’s focused on her county duties. “With that said, if the Congressman were to resign, yes, I would strongly consider my options.”

† Kurt Summers: He just left a post as Preckwinkle’s chief of staff to join Grosvenor Capital Management as a senior vice president, but sources say he has the political bug.

† Debbie Halvorson. Although the former congresswoman was soundly defeated by Jackson in this year’s Democratic primary, she’d have a chance in a multicandidate race. “Most likely not,” she told me, “But I don’t close the door on anything.”

If I missed anybody, I’m sure they’ll let me know — in due time.

Correction: I suffered a severe brain cramp in Thursday’s column and referred to Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady as Pat Ryan. My sincere apologies to Mr. Brady and to all the Pat Ryans.



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