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Voters have a chance to end the 2nd District’s curse

Jesse JacksJr. Sandi JacksFebruary | AP

Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandi Jackson, in February | AP

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Updated: March 26, 2013 9:30AM

On Tuesday, voters could take the first step toward ending the dysfunctional and sordid history of corruption and misconduct that has dominated lllinois’ 2nd Congressional District.

Can they? Will they?

The Jackson family political dynasty has all but collapsed under sensational admissions. The district’s voters elected former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to nine full terms. He rewarded them with crimes that will go down in the annals of political malfeasance. Last week he pled guilty to stealing $750,000 in campaign funds for his own use. Much of that money came from his constituents. His wife, Sandi, who represented the district’s 7th aldermanic ward, admitted to filing falsified tax returns between 2006 through 2011.

On Tuesday, 15 Democrats will vie for the nomination to replace Jackson Jr. The Democratic victor likely will win the April 9 general election.

Federal prosecutors sent a vivid message by clamping down hard on the Jacksons, but we have been there before. Jackson, after all, replaced U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, who was convicted of sexual misconduct, child pornography and obstruction of justice. Reynolds succeeded the controversial U.S. Rep. Gus Savage, the subject of a U.S. House Ethics Committee investigation into alleged sexual misconduct.

It makes you wonder: What is in the water on the South Side and in the south suburbs? And what potion is tainting Illinois’ lakes, reservoirs, canals and streams? Four Illinois governors have gone to prison; one is still there. Between 1974 and 2010, 1,828 elected officials, appointees, government employees and others have been convicted of public corruption in Illinois, according to Professor Dick Simpson and his research team at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since 1973, 31 aldermen have been convicted of corruption.

Right now there are two Chicago-based state legislators and a former Cook County commissioner awaiting trial on corruption charges.

In the 2nd District race, ethical questions continue. State Sen. Donne Trotter, once a leading contender, was forced out after being indicted for trying to tote a gun and ammunition onto an airplane at O’Hare Airport. On Feb. 17, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson dropped out amid a report that she put her mother on her campaign payroll, paying her $57,000 over two years to serve as her scheduler.

Former state Rep. Robin Kelly, the current front-runner, was forced to respond to a news report that she was investigated and criticized by the inspector general for the Illinois Treasurer’s Office for “timekeeping violations.” The alleged missteps came during her failed 2010 campaign for Illinois treasurer.

Trotter said he forgot he was carrying. Hutchinson told Fox News she needed Mom to help keep her life organized, and “manage my campaign responsibilities.”

Kelly has said her ethical conduct has been aboveboard and that she has done nothing wrong.

I have followed Kelly over the years. She should have been more forthcoming about the inspector general’s investigation into her conduct. Still, she has the potential to end the long streak of disappointment in the 2nd District.

The voters deserve squeaky clean representation. No wonder they are turned off. Expect a low voter turnout Tuesday. And expect that Illinois politicians will keep the feds busy for a long time to come.

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