Democrat Robin Kelly won the special election to fill the vacated seat of former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. in a district that includes part of Chicago’s South Side and southern suburbs.
Kelly, 56, was the anticipated victor in a district that voted 81 percent for President Barack Obama in November, and the Associated Press declared her the victor yesterday shortly after the polls closed. Her Republican opponent, Paul McKinley, served almost 20 years in prison for armed robbery, burglary and aggravated battery until a 1997 parole, according to the Chicago Tribune.
When Kelly -- a friend of Obama, who attended her wedding - - is sworn into her seat, the House will have 232 Republicans and 201 Democrats, with two seats vacant. She had 71 percent of the vote to 22 percent for McKinley with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to the AP tally.
A former Illinois state legislator, Kelly emerged as her party’s nominee by defeating 15 other candidates in a Feb. 26 Democratic primary that culminated a campaign centered on gun control and the role of outside money.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super-political action committee, Independence USA, aired advertisements criticizing one of Kelly’s primary opponents, former Representative Debbie Halvorson, who had often sided with the Fairfax, Virginia-based National Rifle Association in opposing gun control proposals. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
Independence USA spent more than $2.2 million on ads attacking Halvorson and supporting Kelly, according to the committee’s filings. Kelly won the primary with 52 percent of the vote, while Halvorson ran second with 24 percent.
Chicago has become a focal point of the national debate over gun control because it had 506 homicides in 2012, the most in four years. The violence has drawn the attention of Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who is scheduled to speak in the city today about youth violence.
Speaking to supporters last night after her low-turnout victory, Kelly said she planned to take on the NRA, the anti-government-spending Tea Party and “anyone else standing in the way of our safety.” She also told reporters she plans to push needed economic development for the area.
Kelly’s election brings the number of women in the House to 78, or 18 percent of the 433 seats now occupied. Among the congresswomen, 59 are Democrats and 19 are Republicans.
Kelly is a New York native who moved to Illinois after high school to attend Bradley University in Peoria, where according to her campaign website she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She later received a doctorate from Northern Illinois University, the website says.
She and Obama have known each other since they both served in the Illinois legislature a decade ago. Cheryl Whitaker, another Obama family friend, served as her House campaign chairwoman.
Jackson, a Democrat and the son of the civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., was first elected to the House in December 1995. He and his wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, pleaded guilty in February to fraud involving his campaign funds, among other charges.
Jesse Jackson Jr., 48, retreated from public view in 2012 and in June took a medical leave of absence from his House duties, later saying he was being treated for bipolar disorder. He resigned from Congress on Nov. 21.
In his guilty plea, Jackson acknowledged misusing about $750,000 of campaign contributions to buy 3,100 personal items, including a $43,000 Rolex watch and a hat that belonged to the late pop singer Michael Jackson. He also said he spent $15,000 of the campaign money on dry cleaning.
The vote to replace Jackson recalled the 1995 special election in which he filled a vacancy left by Mel Reynolds, a Democrat who was convicted of bank fraud and sexual assault. Out of prison since President Bill Clinton pardoned him in 2001, Reynolds was one of the Democratic primary candidates, receiving less than 1 percent of the vote.