CHICAGO (AP) — A former Illinois state representative who supports tougher gun control measures including a ban on assault weapons easily captured Tuesday's special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
The win for Democrat Robin Kelly was widely expected as the Chicago-area district, which Jackson represented from 1995 until late last year, has been a Democratic stronghold for roughly six decades. Kelly emerged from a crowded field in the February primary by focusing heavily on anti-gun efforts and was helped by $2 million in ads from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super political action committee.
Kelly, 56, vowed to become a leader in the federal fight for gun control legislation and echoed the promise after her win. The election comes as Chicago as seen an uptick in murders.
"I'll continue to speak about it in the district. I'll continue to be in touch with those who have lost their children. I'll speak out where I can in D.C.," she told The Associated Press before her victory speech in Matteson.
She easily won over Republican community activist Paul McKinley, three independent candidates and a Green Party candidate in the district that includes city neighborhoods, suburbs and rural areas.
Her win also marked the end of an era for voters who had supported Jackson at the polls with healthy majorities each election after he took office. The Chicago Democrat — the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader — stepped down in November after a mysterious medical leave where full details were never disclosed to the public. He cited his health and acknowledged he was under federal investigation in his resignation letter.
Months later — as campaigning to replace him ramped up — he pleaded guilty to charges that he misspent $750,000 in campaign funds on everything from toilet paper to furs.
Jackson was the third congressman in the district to leave under an ethical cloud, and many voters said Tuesday that they were just ready for a change.
"It hurt my heart. I had him way up here on a pedestal," said Robert Pierson, a Dolton resident who cast a ballot for Kelly on Tuesday. "I hope this time we are going to get it right."
Other voters said it was Kelly's attention to anti-gun efforts that made her an attractive candidate. Guns became the top issue during the campaign — particularly before the primary — and ads from Bloomberg's PAC played up that Kelly supports an assault weapons ban. The television spots also targeted one of her primary opponents, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who has received favorable ratings from the National Rifle Association, an influential pro-gun rights lobbying group.
After her primary win, Kelly received praise from Bloomberg and Vice President Joe Biden, and she recently received an endorsement from President Barack Obama, who noted her anti-gun efforts.
Jackson, who has stayed out of the public eye since his medical leave last summer, appeared in federal court in February, where his wife Sandi Jackson also pleaded guilty. He faces up to 57 months — more than four years — in prison and a fine, under a plea deal with prosecutors.
Contact Sophia Tareen at https://www.twitter.com/sophiatareen .