Will too many candidates spoil the opportunity for African-Americans to keep their hold on the seat?
What do a disgraced former congressman, an ex-NFL player, a defense attorney who once represented R. Kelly and Rod Blagojevich, and a Black Republican commentator have in common? Each has expressed a desire to fill the seat vacated last month by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr..
And they're not alone. At least a dozen people have announced or are considering a run.
Some, like Mel Reynolds, whom Jackson replaced 17 years ago in a special election when Reynolds was convicted of statutory rape, would not make such a bid during an ordinary election cycle, Chicago political scientist Ted Williams told BET.com.
"What you have are a lot of candidates who I don't think should be considered seriously. It's a shame that in the traditional elections, you really don't have very much competition in the African-American community," he said. "That would hold politicians more accountable."
The danger in this case, however, is that the Black vote will potentially be so split that it opens a pathway for someone like former House member Debbie Halvorson, whom Jackson defeated in a challenging primary race earlier this year. The district is majority Black, and some people firmly believe that its representative should be, too.
"The district's history and legacy is that it's been represented by an African-American. It has some of the state's poorest communities. Jesse was doing a fine job, and I think his work needs to continue," said Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush.
Williams agrees. Although he believes that a member of another race who has ties to the community could represent the district's issues in Congress, he thinks it's also important to consider the need for increased African-American representation, particularly in the Senate, where no Blacks serve. In addition, Williams said, "it's important that people see someone who reflects them in that seat."
"Race isn't as important as the connection to the community," he said. "Unfortunately, most of the non-Black [potential candidates] don't have a strong connection to our community."
Both Williams and Rush expressed concern that the field is growing so wide that it will be difficult for an African-American candidate who is both viable and able to raise enough money to truly compete with someone like Halvorson to emerge.
"I'm very concerned about it," said Rush. "It's byzantine politics at its worst."
Following a primary on Feb. 6, the special election to fill Jackson's seat will take place on April 9.
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(Photos from left: Getty Images, AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File, AP Photo/Fred Jewell, File)