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[From left to right: Mel Reynolds, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Gus Savage]

Last Friday, State Sen. Donne Trotter formally withdrew from the Second Congressional District special election to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. The announcement came three weeks after he was arrested at O'Hare for trying to pass through security with a concealed gun. At the time of his arrest, Trotter was considered the front-runner to win the special election. Of course, the special election had only come about because the avalanching shenanigans of Jesse Jackson, Jr. forced his resignation.

The incidents involving Trotter and Jackson are just the latest examples that show how the constituents of the second congressional district are cursed. Because there's no other way to explain the misfortune that has plagued the district's constituents over the last 30 years.

It wasn't always this way, though. For the first 150 years or so of the district's existence, it hosted a colorful collection of Congressmen.

James Woodworth, who held the seat from 1855 to 1857, also served several terms as Chicago mayor, was a founding trustee of both the "old" University of Chicago and the Chicago Astronomical Society, and helped make Chicago an economic center by guiding the Midwest's railways and water traffic through the city.

From 1903 to 1922, the congressman of the 2nd district was James Robert Mann, author of the Mann Act of 1910 (aka the White Slave Traffic Act) which prohibited the interstate transportation of women for prostitution.

Abner Mikva served as the district's representative from 1969 until 1973. In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals where he served until 1994 when he retired to serve as White House counsel for then-President Bill Clinton.

And from 1853 to 1855, just before Woodworth, there was John Wentworth whose two-year stint as the second district's rep was part of a long political career that culminated in his service as Chicago's mayor. Wentworth also served in Congress as a representative of Illinoi's first and fourth districts and during his Congressional tenure, he was offered a deal by Wisconsin that would have extended that state's border to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. His reward had he allowed the Badger state to expand? A seat in the U.S. Senate. Wentworth said no.

So, then, it's easy to understand why I can't help but view the district as anything but cursed. How else to explain that the last three representatives have been, in succession, a virulent racist, a statutory rapist, and a scandal-laden charlatan? How else to explain the ascension of Gus Savage, who held the seat from 1981 until 1993? Somehow, Savage held on to his seat for 12 years despite numerous challengers, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and accusations of verbally and physical sexual harassment of a Peace Corp. volunteer during a press junket tour of Ethiopia in 1989. He also had a habit of using homophobic slurs towards reporters whose questions he didn't like.

Finally ousting Savage in 1992 was an upstart reformer named Mel Reynolds. A graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, an MPA from Harvard, and a Rhodes Scholar, hopes were high for Reynolds. Instead, in August 1994, less than 2 years after his election, he was indicted on a host of charges stemming from a sexual relationship he carried on with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. In 1995, Reynolds was forced to resign his seat.

Winning the seat after Reynolds' exit was a charismatic up-and-comer, Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of the famed Rev. Jesse Jackson. For years, Jackson served without controversy, happy to build a reputation that helped him escape his father's shadow. Then, in 2008, he was connected to the pay-for-play scandal that ensnared then-governor Rod Blagojevich. Jackson allegedly offered up fundraising to Blago in exchange for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he won the 2008 Presidential election.

In early June of this year, Jesse Jackson, Jr. made his last public appearance before disappearing into the ether. In the interim, he's been in and out of the Mayo Clinic for treatment of bipolar disorder, become the target of a federal investigation into misuse of campaign funds, and, jus weeks after winning re-election in November, resigned his seat in disgrace.

The curse's source remains unknown, the misery of the second district voters still intact as they prepare for yet another special election. Even Reynolds has risen from the political graveyard to run for his old seat, a specter of the past that continues to haunt the district. This, even after Savage, despite his morally repugnant behavior, managed to keep his seat for 12 years, never receiving less than 82 percent of the vote in a general election until 1990, the year after he was accused of sexual harassment, when he received "only" 78 percent of the vote.

Those dark cosmic forces maintained their veil over the electorate in November 1994 when Reynolds, just months after his statutory rape indictment, Reynolds, unopposed from any major party challenger, received 98 percent of the vote over several independent candidates in his re-election bid.

The curse's iron grip held fast when in November when Jackson, sight unseen, was never seriously challenged on his way to a startling victory in which he garnered 63 percent of the vote.

And so this curse of mysterious origins remains unabated, its cause still a mind-bending unknown, holding hostage the tortured souls of our state's Second Congressional District. No amount of voodoo seems to have reversed the cloud of calamity that has swallowed the area whole, keeping fraudulent abusers of power in place. There seems to be no magic remedy that can save them from this string of awful leaders who somehow, some way, manage to maintain their terrible cycle of darkness and dismay.

Even the once-mighty Cook County Democratic Party has been stymied, endorsing no one for the upcoming special election primary, handing over its faith to the fates and hoping for the best. And, that's all the district's voters can do: hope and pray that somehow this evil spell is broken, that, somehow, salvation will arrive and free the them from the malicious cycle that's held them captive for so long.

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M. Spencer Green // AP Photo


BY LISA DONOVAN
Cook County Reporter/ldonovan@suntimes.com

A panel of Cook County's top Democrats will gather Dec. 15th with the goal of slating a party candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. The beleaguered congressman resigned last week amid a federal investigation into his campaign spending and ongoing mental health problems that prompted him to take a leave of absence.

Roughly a dozen Democrats have either been mentioned or thrown their hats into the ring to represent the The 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Chicago's South Side to the suburbs, including small sections of Will and Kankakee counties.

Joe Berrios, the head of Cook County's Democratic Party, told the Sun-Times this week that if the party can agree on backing - or slating - a single candidate, it will be easier for him or her to raise money and get their name out there during what will be a short election season. Gov. Pat Quinn this week announced the primary date is Feb. 26th while the general election is March 19th.

If voter trends hold, a Democrat will likely win the seat.

Thornton Township Supervisor and Democratic Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli, a powerbroker whom Berrios tapped to serve as chairman of the slating committee, says the slating process will be pretty standard: candidates will be interviewed during the December session at the Thornton Township Hall in South Holland and the 11 ward and township comitteemen - party bosses - representing various parts of the 2nd Congressional District will take a vote.

While Zuccarelli is encouraging candidates to contact him to be part of the December slating session so they can make their pitch, he's not exactly walking in to this with an open mind. He said he already knows that if state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), who has expressed interest in the job, is running, that's who he's backing. Trotter's legislative district, which stretches from the South Side to the suburbs, covers some of the same territory as the 2nd Congressional District, helping him understand the issues facing residents there, Zuccarelli said.

"Even though some people who've been mentioned (as candidates) might do a decent job -- nobody comes close" to Trotter, Zuccarelli said. "I'm going to conduct inteviews and I'll listen to what people say -- but the only way my mind would change is if Donne dropped out."

BY LISA DONOVAN AND RUMMANA HUSSAIN
Staff Reporters

Two years after her arrest and indictment on public corruption charges, Carla Oglesby -- a top deputy to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger -- is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 11th.

Cook County Judge James Linn set the trial date during a brief Tuesday morning hearing at the 26th and California criminal courts building. Oglesby was not present.

Arrested in October 2010, Oglesby remains free on bail pending the trial on charges that include theft of government property over $100,000, money laundering and official misconduct. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Authorities allege she was behind a scheme to steer no-bid, no-work contracts to friends and her own private public relations firm.

Oglesby had been running a small-time public relations firm in 2009 when she was tapped to be Stroger's message maker in the final months of his ill-fated re-election bid. He would lose the February 2010 primary, but Oglesby was rewarded nonetheless.

Days after the election, Stroger put Oglesby on the county payroll as his his $120,000-a-year deputy chief of staff.

Authorities allege that from mid-February 2010 when she was hired to the time of her fall arrest, Oglesby doled out more than a dozen public relations contracts -- totaling $300,000 in taxpayer money -- to get the word out about anything from flood grant money available to residents to environmental initiatives. Problem is, the work was never done, authorities say.

Each contract was just under the $25,000 threshold - at the time --that would require approval by Cook County commissioners. And prosecutors allege that was deliberate.

Authorities allege she got a piece of the pie by steering a $24,976 contract to her private public relations firm, using the money for personal expenses and moving money around bank accounts in an attempt to hide its source.
Days after her arrest, Stroger dismissed her.