CHICAGO – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday tentatively set the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for March 19 and said he would seek approval to move it to coincide with municipal elections on April 9.
Jackson resigned from Congress last week, citing his health and acknowledging that he's under federal investigation, reportedly for misuse of campaign funds. The move creates an unusual opening in the Chicago area territory that Jackson has held since 1995, and several candidates have already come forward.
The law gives the governor a 115-day window to set a special election. The governor must seek approval from a judge or lawmakers to move it beyond that timeline.
Quinn said the primary election for the 2nd Congressional District seat will be Feb. 26, when primaries for municipal contests are already scheduled. He said he'll go before lawmakers – who meet this week – to get approval for April 9. Quinn, a Democrat, said that would save money.
"This special election will be carried out in a manner that is fair to the electorate and as economical as possible for taxpayers," Quinn said in a statement. "By holding the special primary and general elections on the same days as existing contests, we can save significant taxpayer dollars and ensure the people of the 2nd District can make their voices heard."
The move has the support of election officials in suburban Cook County, who said holding an election on another day could cost more than $1 million. More than half of registered voters in the 2nd District live in suburban Cook County, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr.
He said it's not unusual to have the courts or lawmakers intervene to change the election schedule, such as in 2009 for the special election to replace Rahm Emanuel. The now Chicago mayor left Congress to become President Barack Obama's chief of staff.
Jackson, a Democrat who easily won re-election earlier this month, stepped down after nearly 17 years in office the day before Thanksgiving. His announcement followed a monthslong secretive medical leave for treatment of bipolar disorder and other health issues. He continues outpatient treatment.
Several people have announced intentions to run.
The most well-known may be former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, a Democrat who lost to Jackson in a primary earlier this year. She made Jackson's recent ethical troubles part of her campaign and was seen as the best chance yet to unseat him. She announced her plans to run late Sunday, saying she was successful in winning new parts of the district south of Chicago. The state's political boundaries were redrawn last year following new census numbers, though the district remains largely urban and Democratic.
Others who have stepped forward include prominent Chicago attorney Sam Adam Jr., who once represented imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich; Republican Marcus Lewis, a postal worker who ran against Jackson earlier this year; and James Taylor Sr., a Republican who publishes a weekly black newspaper in Kankakee.
Democrats in Cook County have indicated they want to rally around a candidate for the primary, especially since the field is expected to be large. Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios said he plans to meet with other local Democrats to plan an endorsement session.
In his resignation letter, the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson acknowledged for the first time publicly that he is cooperating with authorities in a federal investigation. He did not elaborate.
Jackson had also been under a House Ethics Committee investigation for ties to Blagojevich. The committee can no longer punish Jackson, but it may issue a final report detailing any discussions Jackson was involved in about raising campaign funds for Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. Jackson, who has not been charged, has denied any wrongdoing.