“I believe at some point in time he will come back. I don’t know whether that will be before the election or after the election.”
— Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, 7th, speaking about her husband, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Voters in the 2nd Congressional District are staring at a quandary: With an election less than a month away, they don’t know whether or when Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will return to work.
It’s been an open-ended question since late June, when Jackson’s staff revealed that he’d been on medical leave for two weeks. Family and staff members assured us his ailments — bipolar disorder and gastrointestinal problems — are temporary and treatable, and his continued presence on the Nov. 6 ballot signals that Jackson would like to continue to serve.
We’d like that, too. We’ve endorsed Jackson many times, including in a tough primary race in March against former Rep. Debbie Halvorson. We’ve given him the benefit of the doubt during a House ethics committee’s interminable investigation into whether Jackson tried to buy an appointment to the U.S. Senate from ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But Jackson has been out of commission for four months. Sandi Jackson’s remarks to reporters last week are the strongest indication we’ve seen that the congressman will not soon be himself. It’s not fair to expect his constituents to go without representation indefinitely.
We make no endorsement in this race, a decision that could be revisited closer to Nov. 6 if Jackson makes clear to the public he is able to serve.
Jackson is recovering at home in Washington, D.C., after being released last month from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He’s seeing doctors two or three times a week and needs calm and quiet, his wife said. He won’t find that on the campaign trail or on Capitol Hill.
Frustrated voters have a viable alternative in Republican Brian Woodworth, of Bourbonnais. Before he resigned to campaign for Congress, Woodworth was a criminal justice professor at Olivet Nazarene University. He’s also worked at a plastics molding firm, bused tables, bailed hay, tended cattle and practiced law — not a career path you might expect would lead to Congress. But he is smart and energetic. He has sound fiscal positions and has grown considerably as a candidate since the primary. We believe he could serve capably. Independent candidate Marcus Lewis of Matteson also is on the ballot.
What to make of the candidate with 16 years of seniority in the House, the seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the champion of a third airport for the Chicago region? That candidate is on the ballot, but he isn’t running.
Democrats drew the new 12th District in southern Illinois to be a safe haven for Rep. Jerry Costello of Belleville. But then Costello, who has been in the House since 1988, decided to retire. Jason Plummer, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010, moved into the district to run. Plummer, 30, vice president of his family’s lumber company, was woefully unprepared to run for lieutenant governor. He still won’t release his tax returns — even though one of his talking points is the need to reform the tax code. We credit him for educating himself on the issues that matter to this diverse, 12-county district, which includes the Metro East area, farming and coal mining regions and Scott Air Force Base. Our endorsement goes to Democrat Bill Enyart of Belleville, a lawyer who just retired after 30 years in the Illinois National Guard, the last five as commander for the state. Enyart’s military experience is perhaps his best asset, since the base, with its 13,000 employees, is the district’s biggest economic engine. While Plummer says the Department of Defense is the only untouchable program in the federal budget, Enyart says there is no question that defense spending will fall with two wars winding down. Some bases will suffer cuts, he says, while others grow as operations are consolidated. One way of enhancing Scott’s future is to make sure the new Boeing refueler is based there, and Enyart says he’s well positioned to make that happen: “Who do you want in the halls of Congress advocating for Scott Air Force Base?” Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw of Carbondale also is on the ballot.
Republican Dan Schmitt of Chicago introduced himself to voters in March with a six-minute YouTube video illustrating the absurd boundaries of the new 5th District. Here’s Schmitt on the lakefront near Irving Park Road. Here he is near Ninth Street and Park Avenue in Hinsdale. Now he’s in Wicker Park, gesturing toward Rosemont. He’s right: It’s a cartological atrocity.
But who better to represent this kitchen sink of a district than Rep. Mike Quigley? In his three years in Congress — and before that, a decade on the Cook County board — the Chicago Democrat has shown a remarkable ability to put together alliances to advance progressive, financially sound causes. In a world of politicians who promise to work together and find smarter ways to govern, Quigley is the rare specimen who actually does it.
A dogged wonk, Quigley is not afraid to answer any question. Most candidates who answered our online survey didn’t want to commit to a spending cuts-to-revenue increases number, for example; in fact, most of them didn’t want to commit to revenue increases at all. Quigley confidently said 3 to 1.
Back to Schmitt for a minute. He’s a fun guy to talk to, a public access television producer who races motorcycles. We agree with a lot of what he has to say about spending and government overreach, but he’s prone to statements like “If you gotta bomb ’em, bomb ’em” (on Iraq) and “Our president is as red (communist) as any president that’s ever been.” As proof of his moral certitude, he points to his 100 percent customer satisfaction rating on eBay, where he sells motorcycle parts as dan45p. If you need two new tires, he could be your man. But we’re sticking with Quigley for Congress.
There’s a third candidate in this race. Nancy Wade of Chicago makes a strong case for the Green Party agenda, if that’s your thing. We doubt many voters will get past her defense of Iran’s “sovereign right to develop nuclear capacity, even arms. An Iran with nuclear arms is likely to calm the region, not destabilize it,” she says. That’s a bet we’re not willing to take.