A Democrat Will Win Rahm's House Seat, But Which Dem? : It's All Politics Voters in Illinois' Fifth Congressional District go to the polls on Tuesday to pick nominees for the seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel.
NPR logo A Democrat Will Win Rahm's House Seat, But Which Dem?

A Democrat Will Win Rahm's House Seat, But Which Dem?

Tuesday is primary day in Illinois' Fifth Congressional District, home of Rahm Emanuel, Rod Blagojevich and Dan Rostenkowski. All three formerly held the seat, and all are household names in houses far from the 5th CD, which is not necessarily a good thing.

But that rep has not dissuaded a huge crowd of candidates — 23 in all — from running. Whoever wins the Democratic primary — and there are 12 Dems on the ballot — will be a heavy favorite to be the district's next member of Congress. Republicans have, from time to time, won it. The district has been redrawn over the years, but before Michael Patrick Flanagan (R) won it in 1994, the last Republican was in 1930. And the only reason Flanagan won it in '94 was that Rostenkowski was under indictment; he promptly lost the seat at the next opportunity, to Blagojevich.

But barring another Rosty-like indictment of the incumbent, a Republican is not going to win this seat in the foreseeable future. The BB shenanigans — Blagojevich and Burris — could endanger Democratic control of the Senate seat, and it will be interesting to see if a high-profile Republican seeks the governorship next year. But the 5th CD is safe Democratic territory.

The district runs from the city's North Side lakefront to the northwest and takes in some Cook County suburbs. Perhaps because of the ethics distractions from their erstwhile statewide leaders, many leading Democrats, such as Emanuel and Mayor Richard M. Daley, have refrained from endorsing a candidate. Seven years ago, the last time the seat was open, Daley endorsed Emanuel, who went on to win the primary over former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak.

The leading Democrats are:

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz. The only female Democrat in the race, Feigenholtz has received financial support from EMILY's List and the Service Employees Union. She has also been endorsed by the National Organization for Women, as well as state Comptroller Dan Hynes. She is among the better-financed candidates and is advertising widely on television, touting her role as a key player in the state Legislature on health care policy.

(NOTE: Reader Zac Meyer correctly adds that Feigenholtz is NOT the only female Democrat running; Jan Donatelli, a former Navy pilot as well as a commercial airlines pilot, is also on the ballot.)

State Rep. John Fritchey, who succeeded Blagojevich in the state Legislature. Like Feigenholtz, Fritchey has raised a lot of money for the race. He has received substantial labor support, getting the backing of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. He is also backed by state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a likely Senate candidate in 2010. (Giannoulias, in fact, announced today he was forming an exploratory committee to challenge Burris in next year's primary.) The race has been pretty tame, but Fritchey and Feigenholtz have had episodes in which the two of them have been going at each other.

Labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan. He is the favorite of the liberal blogosphere and has been endorsed by Progressive Democrats of America. He opposes the government's bailout/rescue of the financial industry, saying the money should have gone directly to the people most affected by the economic crisis.

Chicago Alderman Pat O'Connor. If any candidate can benefit from his long association with Mayor Daley and the local Democratic Party, it's O'Connor, who is thought to be Daley's go-to person on the City Council. But, perhaps because he's hedging his bets, Daley has not publicly joined the O'Connor bandwagon.

Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley. Quigley is campaigning as an out-and-out reformer, one who has taken on corruption in local government. He has been endorsed by both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Sunday's Tribune endorsement said in part, "If you're a Democrat and you want a candidate who fights every day against the corruption and ineptitude that plagues state and local government, you have one candidate. ... [Quigley] has sought to protect taxpayers and to provide better health care and other services in Cook County. He has been a leader on the environment and human rights."

University of Chicago economist Charlie Wheelan. He seems to be having the most fun in the campaign; one of his TV ads has him speaking on camera underwater, to illustrate how voters are feeling with the economic troubles.

Also on the ballot is Frank Annunzio, but not the former congressman; he died in 2001. This Annunzio is his great-nephew, who used to work for the Chicago Housing Authority. Other Democrats, in addition to the aforementioned Jan Donatelli: Drs. Paul Bryar and Victor Forys, Carlos Monteagudo and Cary Capparelli.

Republicans running are David Anderson, Gregory Bedell, Tom Hanson, Daniel Kay, Rosanna Pulido and Jon Stewart. Hanson, who owns a commercial real estate company, was the GOP nominee against Emanuel in 2008, receiving 22 percent of the vote. Stewart is a former pro wrestler, not the host of The Daily Show. There are also five candidates seeking the Green Party nomination.

Low turnout is expected.

The general election is April 7. The winner will serve the remainder of the term that Emanuel was re-elected to in November.

A Half-Century History Of The Seat

1958 — Thomas Gordon (D), who was first elected in 1942, retired. The seat was won by Dan Rostenkowski,, who later became the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

1994 — Rostenkowski, under investigation for his alleged role in embezzling cash from the House post office, comfortably won renomination in the March primary against four opponents. Even with a 17-count indictment on May 31, he was expected to triumph. But in November he fell to the virtually unknown Republican Michael Patrick Flanagan.

1996 — Flanagan was ousted after one term by state Rep. Rod Blagojevich.

2002 — Blagojevich gave up the seat to run for governor. Rahm Emanuel (D) won a heated primary and held the seat until becoming the White House chief of staff in 2009.

Two other House seats remain vacant: New York's 20th, vacated by now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), which will have a special election on March 31; and California's 32nd, which had been represented by Hilda Solis (D), now the secretary of labor. That seat may be filled on May 19.