SOUTH HOLLAND | The politically powerful people of Chicago’s South Side and surrounding suburbs will be gathering at South Suburban College on Saturday to support a candidate for the vacancy left when Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned his seat in Congress.
Committeemen will meet for what likely will be an all-day session in which they will try to pick one candidate to seek the Democratic nomination for the Illinois 2nd Congressional District in the Feb. 26 special election primary.
Whether that will happen is uncertain because many of the committeemen from Chicago’s far South Side, the south suburbs in Cook County, along with Will and Kankakee counties, have split preferences.
Chicago 10th Ward Committeeman John Pope has not publicly stated a preference, but Thornton Township Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli has been outspoken in his preference for state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago. Bloom Township Committeeman Terry Matthews prefers state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields.
Will County Democratic Chairman Larry Walsh also is expected to give support to Hutchinson’s campaign, although he has spoken highly of the bid of former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who lost to Jackson in the March Democratic primary election.
Many south suburban municipal officials have declined to state a preference. Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush said she wants to see who files nominating petitions to get on the ballot before making up her mind.
She wasn’t sure any candidate could get a majority of committeemen support, but said, “It is the political process. We have to go through it.”
Zuccarelli is in charge of the slating process, largely because Thornton Township produced far more Democratic votes in the last election than any other township, ward or outside county contained within the congressional district. The area stretches from 53rd Street in the Hyde Park neighborhood south to the Kankakee/Iroquois county line.
Trotter also has support from Bremen Township Committeeman Maggie Crotty, along with Chicago 5th Ward Committeeman Leslie Hairston and 8th Ward Committeeman Michele Harris. Trotter almost half the votes out of the Cook County portion of the district.
But Trotter was arrested earlier this month on charges he had a pistol in his carry-on bag while trying to board an airplane at O’Hare International Airport. Other committeemen have expressed interest in the campaigns of Hutchinson and Robin Kelly, a former state representative who now serves as Cook County chief administrative officer.
State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, who briefly considered running for the post, said he thinks Trotter’s political career will survive, but that the timing of the arrest will hurt him among many committeemen.
“He’s a great man, and I sympathize with him and pray for his family,” Jones said. “He will recover from this and continue to serve, but the timing right now is so bad.”
The slating session will give interested candidates a chance to speak to committeemen, while also offering committeemen a chance to ask questions of the would-be candidates. The session is open to the public, but the portion in which committeemen discuss the candidates and decide who they want to support will be in closed session.
Bob Storman, a spokesman for Zuccarelli, said officials are aware of at least 15 people who have expressed interest in being slated. “It’s going to be a zoo, there’s going to be so many people there,” he said.