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Robin Kelly Expected to Win Rep. Jesse Jackson’s Seat, But Then What?

Rep. Robin KellyChicago Democrat Robin Kelly is expected to win handily today over Republican Paul McKinley in the special election to fill former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat, but most insiders don’t seem to have much hope that Kelly will be able to get anything meaningful done in Washington.

Part of that is because her status as a newcomer in Congress will pale in comparison to Jackson, who was a 17-year incumbent, served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and brought nearly $1 billion to the district. Jackson was also a strong presence in Chicago, with many alliances with mayors, activists and voters across a diverse district that includes city neighborhoods, suburbs and some rural areas.

There is a history of criminality in the district. Not only did Jackson in February plead guilty in federal court to using campaign funds for personal use, but Republican McKinley is a convicted felon who spent nearly two decades behind bars for burglaries, armed robberies, and aggravated battery. 

In addition, Jackson’s predecessor, Mel Reynolds, who left office in 1995, was convicted of fraud and having sex with a minor. Before Reynolds, the previous officeholder Gus Savage faced allegations of sexual misconduct with a Peace Corps worker during a congressional visit overseas.

About Kelly, Don Rose, a longtime political consultant in Chicago, told the Associated Press: “There’s a lot of hope (among voters) because she’s had a pretty clean record so far… It’ll be a while before she can become a leader, but it’s a matter of what she does.”

But Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin, a Jackson supporter, said he’s skeptical that Kelly, a former Illinois state legislator, will be able to do much.

“He had some influence,” Griffin said. “When a freshman person goes in dealing with guys who are well-grounded and unwilling to negotiate, nothing’s going to transfer. The fact is that she is almost facing an insurmountable task.”

Kelly has said she wants to be a forceful advocate for gun control in Congress — and indeed she got significant support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg during her primary campaign because of her gun control views. During her primary victory speech, she issued a direct challenge to the National Rifle Association, earning praise from Bloomberg and Vice President Joe Biden.

When she received the endorsement of Chicago native President Obama, he referred to her anti-gun advocacy.

“I will have a voice in Congress as the debate is going on and as issues come to the floor,” Kelly said. “I will attend everything I can attend.”

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