Battle for Rahm's Seat Heats Up as Geoghegan Tosses Hat in the Ring
By Kari Lydersen
Perhaps hoping to follow the recent example of a certain Chicago community activist now set to lead the nation, crusading labor lawyer, author and pundit Tom Geoghegan today entered the race for Rahm Emanuel's recently vacated Congressional seat.
Geoghegan joins a crowded, colorful and well-connected field of up to 20 potential candidates with only eight weeks to go until the March 3 special election primary. The Fifth District is a heavily Democratic one, and the primary will select the hands-down front-runner for the April 7 balloting.
Those announcing or expressing interest in the seat include three state representatives, two powerful city councilmen, a former homeland security official, a county commissioner, a doctor, a nightclub owner and a former pilot.
This is the same seat held by Gov. Rod Blagojevich from 1997 to 2003, and by former representative Dan Rostenkowski, imprisoned after pleading guilty in 1996 to mail fraud amidst various scandals.
"People are very frustrated about the current state of the government in Illinois," said candidate Justin Oberman, an Assistant Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator following the 9-11 attacks and later part of then-candidate Obama's advisory committee on homeland security. "Voter turnout will be high and they will put a premium on ethics and integrity."
One of the leading candidates is Illinois state Rep. John Fritchey, a vocal member of the state House special committee investigating whether to proceed with the impeachment process against Blagojevich.
"Right now it's difficult to find an elected official who's not critical of Governor Blagojevich," said Fritchey, who announced his candidacy late Monday night via his Facebook page. "The reality is my criticisms have been vocal and constant for several years now. I was the chief sponsor of legislation -- the 2003 Ethics Act -- which is one of the cornerstones of the charges surrounding the governor. I'm confident voters in the Fifth District will understand the difference between rhetoric and results and they will recognize the work I've done over these years."
Fritchey has been endorsed by Richard Mell, a powerful alderman and the estranged father-in-law of Blagojevich. Mayor Richard M. Daley has not endorsed a candidate in the Fifth District contest, and with numerous Chicago Democratic notables in the race there likely will not be a clear party favorite.
"It's a very compressed schedule and a very crowded field, so it's not a matter of getting 50 percent plus one, it's a matter of getting more than anyone else," said David Morrison, assistant director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "You can win with a fairly small share of the total vote. So what you usually look for in races, you can throw out the window here."
This and the drama that has characterized Illinois politics of late may create an opening for a political newcomer like Geoghegan who casts himself as a reformer. He is best known for representing steelworkers, nurses, dissident Teamsters and the uninsured in lawsuits; and for writing a play, four books and editorials about labor struggles. His candidacy has generated a flurry of excitement from websites like DailyKos and ProgressiveIllinois, garnering him $26,000 in online campaign donations in just the past few days.
"I thought a lawyer running for Congress might have an opportunity to persuade Democrats to rewrite the social contract," Geoghegan said. "People have been told for years that for all sorts of things like Social Security and health care, the money isn't there. The bailout has really brought home to people at least in some intuitive way that maybe in fact all along the money has been there. I don't think it's impossible to start a conversation about these issues, and running for office and winning is a way of getting that conversation going."
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