New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has lent his voice and money to have some say in which Democrat replaces former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the son of civil rights icon Jesse Jackson, in today's special election.
The front-runners in today's primary in Illinois 2nd District are Robin Kelly, a former state representative, and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson. Kelly recently snapped up Bloomberg's endorsement and financial backing through his super PAC Independence USA. Bloomberg donated close to $10 million to the super PAC last year, according to OpenSecrets.org. Jackson, who pleaded guilty last week in a D.C. federal court to one felony fraud count related to improper use of campaign funds, won re-election last November but resigned, citing health and the investigation into his campaign finances as reasons.
Halvorson is the only white candidate in the majority African-American district, which includes Chicago's South Side. Several Democrats initially stepped up to run for the seat following Jackson's resignation, but many withdrew and threw their support to the current candidates.
Chicago's epidemic of gun violence has been a top issue in the campaign. Ads have sought to paint Halvorson, who challenged Jackson in a 2012 Democratic primary for his congressional seat, in a negative light. An ad made by Independence USA, the super PAC created by Bloomberg, an independent, has attacked Halvorson for her support of gun rights.
"Debbie Halvorson, when it comes to preventing gun violence, she gets an F," the ad says. The ad further warns to "watch out" for Halvorson, saying she is against banning deadly assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and that she also co-sponsored a bill to allow felons to take "loaded, hidden guns across state lines."
"If you can tell me that banning another gun will go after the criminals, I'd be all for it," Halvorson told The Hill Monday. "I'd be for anything that stopped the killing and gets guns out of the hands of criminals, but it won't work. [Chicago's] Cook County has had an assault weapons ban since 1993, and they have the highest murder rate in the country." Halvorson was one of the few Democrats endorsed by the National Rifle Association in 2010.
A spokesman for Halvorson's campaign said the ad had actually backfired on the super PAC.
"Initially, it was a shell shock," said Sean Howard, a spokesman for Halvorson's campaign. "But we had 70 African-American ministers call for Bloomberg to have the ad removed. … These ministers find it distasteful and racist, and thought its tone was dangerous and appalling."
But the ad stayed. A representative from Independence USA said the ad expressed Bloomberg's staunch support for Kelly. "The mayor has been clear for his entire time in office. He wants commonsense reforms that keep guns out of hands of criminals," said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Independence USA. "There is no doubt there has been a surge of gun violence around Chicago. Robin Kelly has been aggressively pushing for gun reform measures - we believe this is the right way to go."
Halvorson, however, remains confident, said Howard. "Given that we have a dangerous snowstorm here today, turnout will be dangerously low," Howard said. "[Debbie] was phone banking all last night. … We are cautiously optimistic."