CHICAGO — Declaring "it's what you do after the mistakes that counts," disgraced ex-Congressman Mel Reynolds entered the race Wednesday for the U.S. House seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.
"I'm not perfect," Reynolds said in announcing his candidacy Wednesday at the Hotel Allegro downtown. "And if you're perfect, I'm not appealing to you."
Reynolds, who was elected to the same 2nd Congressional District seat in 1992, left office in a sex scandal in 1995 following an affair with an underage campaign volunteer. He was later convicted of bank fraud while serving a five-year jail term for the sex crime, but was pardoned of the bank charge by President Bill Clinton and released in 2001.
Jackson succeeded Reynolds in Congress, but resigned the office last week after suffering from bipolar disorder and acknowledging he is the target of a federal corruption investigation.
Reynolds joins former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete and city Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) as formal candidates, but more are expected to follow.
Reynolds was asked if his candidacy would be considered "a joke."
"If it was a joke, you guys wouldn't be here," he told reporters. "We've done some polling, and our polling tells us it's far from a joke."
Reynolds admitted "mistakes," but said his record was otherwise stellar. "Nobody has ever written I didn't do a great job when I was a member of Congress," he added. He said he was running on the issues of jobs, education, mortgage foreclosures and gun control and cited how he sponsored and passed a federal assault-weapons ban in the mid-'90s.
A Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard and University of Illinois alumnus, he asked voters to "look at the entire history of me and not just one particular time," adding, "We believe that, after the people of the 2nd District give us a good, fair look, we have a pretty good chance of winning."
Democratic Cook County ward and township committeemen are expected to unite behind a single candidate, but Reynolds said he would not ask or expect their support.
"I'm not seeking an endorsement from anyone but the people of the 2nd Congressional District," Reynolds said.
Manuel Galvan, spokesman for the Cook County Democratic Party, said the endorsement could be key. "You don't have a lot of time," he added. The boost in money and campaign workers the party could grant could swing a tight election with multiple candidates. Gov. Quinn has proposed the special election piggyback with the municipal primary Feb. 26 and April 9 general election.
A similar election in the 5th District four years ago, when Rahm Emanuel left his congressional seat to become White House chief of staff, saw progressive Mike Quigley win with 22 percent of the vote when committeemen couldn't choose between party regulars. "I suspect here efforts will be made to assure that there's one (endorsed) candidate," Galvan said.
Beale is one of six city ward committeemen and five township committeemen with area in the 2nd District, which extends through Will County to Kankakee County, and they'll attempt to slate a candidate. The district is drawn so that most voters are in the city and suburbs. All the city committeemen are also aldermen, with Beale joined by Leslie Hairston (5th), Michelle Harris (8th), John Pope (10th), Carrie Austin (34th) and Sandi Jackson (7th), wife of the unseated Congressman.
According to Galvan, Thornton Township Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli has been appointed chairman of the selection committee, with Rich Township's Tim Bradford vice chairman. Terry Matthews of Bloom Township, Maggie Crotty of Bremen and Robert Rita of Bremen fill out the committee.
Sandi Jackson, however, has not been seen in public in recent weeks, and even skipped the City Council's recent vote on the 2013 budget. Her absence could create a five-on-five split between city and suburban committeemen, although Galvan said it was customary for a committeeman to award a vote by proxy if not able to attend.
Since leaving prison, Reynolds has worked for Jesse Jackson Sr.'s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and says he now has a consulting firm specializing in U.S. businesses in Zimbabwe and vice versa. He last ran for the seat in 2004 and was soundly defeated by Jesse Jackson Jr. in the Democratic Primary.