The first batch of candidates hoping to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. turned in paperwork Thursday to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
More than half a dozen Democrats filed candidacy petitions with signatures required for the Feb. 26 primary. The special election for the heavily Democratic 2nd District seat is April 9.
The candidates on the primary ballot include former state Rep. Robin Kelly, Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, state Sen.-elect Napoleon Harris and former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds.
The November resignation of Jackson, who was first elected in 1995, creates a wide open primary. That's especially true after Cook County Democratic leaders couldn't agree on a candidate to endorse and one of the front runners dropped out. State Sen. Donne Trotter, who was arrested last month when security workers at O'Hare International Airport found a handgun in his bag, said he didn't want his legal problems to overshadow key issues in the region.
The district — which has approximately 420,000 registered voters — covers parts of Chicago's South Side, suburbs and rural areas. Parts of the territory have been hit particularly hard with unemployment and poverty.
Some candidates have made a gun control a top issue, particularly after last month's deadly school shooting in Connecticut.
Kelly, who supports an assault weapons ban, called it one of her top issues and said she plans to campaign aggressively, crisscrossing the district.
"I plan to go from the beginning to the end," she said. "Every voter is important, every constituent, from the city to south burbs."
Hutchinson said Thursday that she's raised more than $130,000 so far and collected more than double the 1,256 signatures she needed.
"I'm going to use the support we've earned from volunteers and small donors to build a campaign the Southland can be proud of," she said in a statement.
The filing period for established party candidates ends Monday. Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who challenged Jackson in last year's primary and lost, has said she's running.
Another candidate also will be familiar to voters in the region. Reynolds held the seat until he resigned from office in 1995 after being convicted of having sexual relations with an underage campaign worker. He was replaced by Jackson in a special election. Reynolds has said he believes voters will forgive his mistakes.
Jackson, who had been on medical leave for bipolar disorder for months, resigned in November. He cited his health and acknowledged he's under federal investigation reportedly for misuse of campaign funds.