CHICAGO — The Cook County Democratic Party is looking to reassert its political power by slating a successful candidate in the 2nd Congressional District special election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. But the only announced candidate with an actual vote in that process, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), expects a logjam in the crowded race and that no endorsement will be given.
"I've talked to all the committeemen," Beale said Tuesday. "The way I see it, it's going to be hard for anyone to get slated."
Six city ward committeemen and five suburban township committeemen have a say in the endorsement, with a slating session scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Saturday at South Suburban College, 5800 State St., South Holland. Yet it's not a one-vote-a-person process, but each committeeman's vote is weighted given how much of the 2nd Congressional District is in his or her area. Thornton Township Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli is chairman of the selection committee with the greatest single share, followed by Rich Township Committeeman Tim Bradford, the vice chairman.
Yet with several candidates already announced in the Feb. 26 Democratic Primary, including Beale, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (Olympia Fields), state Sen. Donne Trotter (Chicago), state Sen.-elect Napoleon Harris (Flossmoor) and former U.S. representatives Mel Reynolds of Dolton and Debbie Halverson of Crete, as well as Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly of Matteson, Beale expected no one to cross the 50 percent threshold in the overall vote.
"For one person to come away with the party's endorsement I think is highly unlikely," Beale said.
Ald. John Pope (10th) echoed that. "There are so many candidates," Pope said. "Some of them have their committeemen, and there's some hesitancy by some folks to endorse."
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) illustrated the problem by saying she hasn't yet chosen a favorite candidate. She said she was looking for someone to deliver for Hyde Park, such as proposed Lake Shore Drive and Promontory Point projects that have had federal funding stalled for years. She added that all the candidates were at an equal disadvantage in that area, as "they will be very, very young on the totem pole" as newcomers in Congress, and that she didn't expect anyone to convince committeemen otherwise at Saturday's slating session.
Even Bradford, who is openly backing Kelly, admitted an endorsement was unlikely. "You never know what can happen," he said. "But, to be quite honest with you, I don't expect that anyone will walk away with enough of the weighted vote total."
Beale believes that's a good thing, adding that an endorsement "shuts everybody (else) out."
"I think it might be better left open," Bradford added, signaling his inclination to hold with his support for Kelly and not negotiate a compromise.
Yet in a sprint of a special election like this, with the primary set for just over two months away, the Democratic endorsement could sway the election with a quick infusion of cash and campaign workers.
"Not necessarily cash, but I think boots on the ground would help," Beale said. "Because committeemen have organizations and we have people we can get out on the street at any given time."
"It's always important," Pope said. "The Democratic Party has to be strong and remain strong. I think the perception is the slating doesn't mean as much" as in the glory days of the so-called Democratic machine.
When committeemen failed to make an endorsement in the similar election to replace Rahm Emanuel in the 5th District four years ago, it enabled progressive maverick Mike Quigley to squeeze between more established party regulars like Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, then a state representative, and Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th).
"With a race like this, an open primary is something we should be looking at, because there are so many people in the race," Beale said. "Leave it open and let the people choose."