CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois state senator charged with trying to board a flight with a gun in his carry-on bag said Wednesday he believes he still has a chance to fill Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat in Congress, though his attorney acknowledged there is a "cloud hanging over his head."
State Sen. Donne Trotter, who maintains he forgot the gun was in the bag, appeared in a Cook County court Wednesday in hopes a judge would dismiss the case. Instead, prosecutors, who will have to show he knowingly tried to pass security with the gun in his bag, were given until Jan. 17 for more preparations.
The delay could jeopardize Trotter's chances of getting the Cook County Democratic Party's backing Saturday when it endorses one of the more than dozen Democrats vying for the U.S. House seat.
"You'd have to be deaf and dumb to think it wouldn't affect his candidacy," his lawyer, Thomas Durkin, told reporters outside the courthouse. "It's a cloud hanging over his head."
Trotter, 62, was arrested Dec. 5 when Transportation Security Administration officers discovered an unloaded .25-caliber Beretta handgun and ammunition in an outside zippered pocket of his garment bag during routine X-ray screening at O'Hare International Airport, where he planned to board a flight to Washington.
According to a police report, Trotter told TSA officers he has the weapon for work as a security officer at a Chicago security and detective firm and that he did not realize it was in the bag when he packed for his flight. He is licensed to carry a weapon and has a Firearm Owner's Identification card, police say.
Trotter, who is part the Senate's Democratic leadership, was charged with a Class 4 felony, which carries a penalty of one to three years in prison for those found guilty. His lawyer called it "an incredibly minor case."
"He did not remember that he had the gun there, which happens thousands of times, I'm told, at O'Hare airport," Durkin said. "I'm also told that a lot of these cases are resolved without charging."
Speaking to reporters, Durkin and Trotter refused to discuss specifics of the case or the nature of the senator's security work.
The Chicago Democrat said he believes his 24 years in state politics makes him qualified to hold the seat left vacant by Jackson's resignation and to represent southeast Chicago and nearby suburbs. He called the district "one of the most neglected communities, not only in the state, but in this country" and cited his work as a state lawmaker in addressing health care, creating jobs and dealing with budgets and deficits.
On Saturday, he'll have to make that case before Cook County Democratic officials and answer their questions. Durkin, who might attend the endorsement session with him, said he hasn't decided yet how they'll deal with any questions about the legal case.
Trotter said the committee's backing is crucial.
"This is a game of addition, not subtraction," he said. "... So, certainly I would like to have the support of the Democratic slating committee."