CHICAGO — A special primary election to replace Jesse L. Jackson Jr. in Congress will be held in February, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois announced Monday, as numerous potential candidates were already floating their names in public, calling leaders in search of financial and political backing, and sizing up the competition.
One thing has become clear since Jackson, a Democrat who had held the job for nearly two decades, resigned last week: Congressional seats in Democratic strongholds of this city do not come open very often, and when they do, a line forms fast. Jackson himself had won the seat in a crowded special election in 1995 when then-Rep. Mel Reynolds resigned after being convicted of having sex with a teenage girl.
“If someone is thinking of becoming a congresswoman or congressman, this might be their only chance,” said Debbie Halvorson, a former Democratic representative who ran against Jackson this year and lost, and has announced that she will seek the seat once more Feb. 26, the date Quinn set for the primary. “Whoever gets this will have it forever, they say. That’s why everyone wants to take a chance.”
Quinn also announced a general election for March 19, to comply with requirements in state law that the election be held within 115 days. But that date appears likely to change; the governor said that he will urge state legislators to allow the election to be delayed until April 9 — a day when local elections are already being held — as a way to save money. If held on its own, a special general election could cost as much as $2.5 million, election officials said.
Given the Democratic leanings of Jackson’s Second District, which includes parts of Chicago’s South Side and its southern suburbs, many here were focused on the Democratic primary, in which elections have historically been decided. Even as the names of many possible candidates, including members of the City Council and state legislators, were being tossed around here, there were some calls for a consensus candidate. In a district that was once 68 percent black but that 10-year remapping left 54 percent black, some leaders wondered whether a large number of credible black candidates might split the vote, allowing a nonblack candidate to win the seat for the first time in more than three decades. Others suggested that the Jackson family might ultimately support one candidate over the others, raising that person’s chances.
“At the end of the day, you cannot deny the historical impact of the family,” said State Sen. Toi W. Hutchinson, a Democrat who is considering a run, “and you pay respect to that.” Even before Jackson resigned Wednesday, citing his treatment for bipolar disorder and acknowledging a federal criminal investigation into his campaign spending, party leaders had been considering possible replacements, according to Carrie M. Austin, an alderman and a member of the Illinois Democratic Party committee from Jackson’s district.