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Field grows in contest to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

(MCT) — As Illinois lawmakers acted Thursday to set a new date for a special general election to determine who will succeed former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., two state senators, a former state representative and a Chicago alderman prepared to enter the campaign.

State Sens. Donne Trotter of Chicago and Toi Hutchinson of Olympia Fields and Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, said they were joining the increasingly crowded field to fill the Jackson vacancy in the South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District. Aides to Robin Kelly, a top Cook County administrator and former state representative from Matteson, said she would announce her candidacy Sunday.

At the same time, a source close to Ald. Will Burns, 4th, said the protege of President Barack Obama is leaning against making a bid for Congress and a decision could come by the end of the week.

Already in the contest are former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete, who lost a primary challenge to Jackson in March, and state Sen.-elect Napoleon Harris, a former Northwestern and NFL player who won his first office this month.

Also announced as a candidate is disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, who gave up the 2nd District seat in 1995 after his conviction on sex-related charges, including having sex with an underage campaign worker.

On Thursday, the Illinois Senate gave final approval to a House-passed measure backed by Gov. Pat Quinn and election authorities in the 2nd District to set Feb. 26 for the special primary election and April 9 for the special general election. Those dates coincide with already-scheduled municipal elections in the district outside Chicago and could save taxpayers millions of dollars by not having a separate general election date in March.

Among the latest entrants in the contest, Trotter, who was elected to the state House in 1988 and to the state Senate in 1992, has served as the budget point man for Senate Democrats in Springfield. Trotter, who plans to formally kick off his candidacy early next week, also has the backing of a significant ally, Frank Zuccarelli, the Democratic chairman and supervisor of vote-rich Thornton Township.

"My numbers have solidified with Supervisor Zuccarelli's endorsement," Trotter said. He also said he would receive the backing of prominent Democrats in Kankakee County, at the far southern end of the district, at an event Sunday.

Zuccarelli is chairing the congressional slating session of Cook County Democratic leaders in the district Dec. 15, and his suburban township has a significant weighted vote in the endorsement session. Trotter's current state Senate district also takes in many parts of the congressional district. Still, Trotter acknowledged any effort to reduce the size of the field may prove fruitless.

"I'm still talking to committeemen, including some who have endorsed others, and hopefully we'll put on a unified face," Trotter said of slating, "but then again, we are Democrats."

Hutchinson, appointed to the state Senate in 2009 and subsequently elected, has been viewed as a rising star among Senate Democrats. She said she has worked on efforts to speed plans for the Illiana Expressway to bring economic development to the region. Hutchinson will formally announce her plans to run Monday.

Kelly served as a state representative from 2003 to 2007 before becoming chief of staff to then-state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Kelly lost a bid for state treasurer in 2010 and then became chief administrative officer for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Kelly campaign aides said she plans a formal announcement Sunday in Matteson.

Beale, an alderman since 1999, told reporters at City Hall that he was entering the race, regardless of the outcome of the slating. His candidacy already has the support of Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, the Democratic state central committeewoman in the congressional district.

"Right now, I'm the only alderman in the city of Chicago in the race, and I think building on that base and the relationships I have in the south suburban area, we have a path to victory," Beale said.

He acknowledged the difficulty of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars quickly to mount an effective campaign but said he's confident he will collect enough.

"We're going to do it the old-fashioned way. We're going to make phone calls and get people to buy into my vision, and hopefully we — well, we definitely will raise enough funds to be successful," he said.

Tribune reporters Hal Dardick and Ray Long contributed.

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