CHICAGO – An Illinois state lawmaker who was considered a front-runner to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress ended his candidacy Saturday, saying he did not want the felony gun charges he is facing to detract from the important issues in the district.
Democratic State Sen. Donne Trotter was arrested Dec. 5 when security screeners at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport found an unloaded .25-caliber Beretta handgun and ammunition in his garment bag. He told officers the gun is for a job he has with a security firm and that he had forgotten it was in his bag. Trotter, 62, spent a night in jail before posting bail and being released. He has been charged with a felony.
Trotter announced Saturday he will not seek the 2nd congressional district seat, which includes parts of Chicago's South Side and nearby suburbs.
"Today I formally announce my intention to end my candidacy for that position," he told an audience of district constituents, local officials and journalists in suburban Lynwood. "The people of the second Congressional district have critical needs that must be met."
For weeks after his arrest, Trotter insisted he would still seek the seat and touted his achievements during 24 years in state politics, even as his attorney, Thomas Durkin, acknowledged that the charges left a "cloud hanging over his head." Trotter maintained the backing of an influential suburban township leader, but missed out on the Cook County Democratic Party's endorsement, as its slating committee opted for an open primary among the dozen or so Democratic candidates.
On Saturday, Trotter said he'd had a change of heart, noting that the district faces big challenges in creating jobs, improving education and reversing a home foreclosure rate that he said was the highest of the state's congressional districts.
"The stakes are too high and the debate is too important," he said. "... Nothing must be allowed to eclipse this debate. My commitment to these and other quality-of-life issues runs too deep to allow myself or my situation to detract from what needs to be front and center."
Trotter said he would not endorse any of the other candidates.
Among those still in the race are Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, former state Rep. Robin Kelly and former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, whose record includes convictions for fraud and having sex with a minor. Reynolds has said he believes voters will forgive his mistakes.
They will face off in a Feb. 26 primary that is considered the key contest in the heavily Democratic district. Republican James Taylor, publisher of the City News in Kankakee, has also announced plans to run.
The general election is scheduled for April 9.
Jackson resigned from Congress in November, shortly after winning his ninth term in office. In his resignation letter, he cited his ongoing battle with bipolar depression and revealed publicly for the first time that he is under federal investigation, reportedly for misusing campaign funds. He has not been charged with a crime.