As the special election heats up in Illinois’ 2nd district, issues such as gun control have elevated the race to one of national significance.

Since her primary win, Democratic candidate Robin Kelly’s been MIA, no doubt assuming she’s got this race in the bag.  Paul McKinley, by contrast, is running a grassroots campaign, despite having been abandoned by the Republican establishment.

But in an area that’s been plagued by corruption dating back to 1981 and has most recently seen the resignation of disgraced Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., voters are concerned with far more than just the gun debate – they have grown especially wary of the Chicago machine and are calling for change.  While that apparatus is exactly what the district’s residents and activists have been fighting against, Robin Kelly and her campaign staff appear to be fully entrenched in it.

To start, there are Kelly and her staff’s close ties to the very top of the chain – President Barack Obama.

Robin Kelly not only worked on Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign, but Kelly’s close friend and campaign chair is Dr. Cheryl Whitaker, the wife of Eric Whitaker, who had become a figure of media focus during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  The Whitakers “are extremely close friends of Michelle and Barack Obama,” and have frequently socialized together.

Obama and Eric Whitaker both attended Harvard, where they played basketball together and forged a close friendship over the years.  Eric Whitaker was director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, before becoming an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he helped to build the program first pioneered by Michelle Obama to redirect uninsured patients from the hospital emergency rooms to local health clinics.  That relationship drew attention when it was revealed that the PR firm of Obama adviser David Axelrod helped to promote the hospital’s program.

When IL Governor Rod Blagojevich was looking to fill the Department of Public Health position, Obama, by his own account, provided a glowing recommendation of Whitaker to campaign fundraiser Tony Rezko, according to the Chicago Sun Times.  (Note: While no wrong-doing was found on Whitaker’s part in any of those interactions, Rezko and Blagojevich were both later convicted in separate cases on several corruption related charges and sentenced to prison).

Eric Whitaker also surfaced in the middle of controversy on other occasions, most notably when Edward Klein, conservative author of The Amateur, alleged that Whitaker had offered the infamous Reverend Jeremiah Wright $150,000 to stay silent during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  Whitaker however denied that allegation.

But Robin Kelly’s connections to the political machine don’t stop at the Whitakers and the Obamas.  Kelly has numerous connections to the apparatus, to name just a few:

  • Previously Chief of Staff for Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, whose brothers were later sued by the FDIC in connection with failed loans issued by his family’s Broadway Bank.  Obama called Giannoulias “his friend” and publicly endorsed him during Giannoulias’ run for Obama’s vacated Senate seat.
  • $2 million in outside financial support from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence PAC (a donation which, by the way, upset even the folks at MSNBC). (added) Bloomberg was the sole donor to the SuperPAC which spent $2 million to get Kelly the Democratic nomination.
  • More than $130,000 in donations from Daily Kos, a staple of the far-left’s infrastructure.  Kelly even thanked the Daily Kos community personally in one of her victory speeches.
  • Support and outreach from Democracy for America, another staple of the far-left’s infrastructure.  Democracy for America was founded by former DNC chair Howard Dean, and it’s been blasting fund-raising emails to its more than one million members to “defeat the NRA” and elect Robin Kelly.
  • Kelly’s pollster and adviser Jason McGrath is also well-connected to the political machine himself.
    • Former adviser/strategist for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and many other Illinois politicians
    • Has worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
    • Has worked with numerous labor unions and entrenched progressive organizations like Center for American Progress

Meanwhile, local residents in the district’s communities have repeatedly complained that politicians across the state, as well as local labor unions and community organizations, are too far entrenched in the political machine to listen to their demands for jobs and a reduction of homelessness and poverty.

As Robin Kelly focuses on gun control, chances are that voters of Illinois’ 2nd district are increasingly likely to start focusing on her connections to the apparatus that is the Chicago Machine and out-of-state money.

[WAJ Note -- This is Mandy's first post at LI. She will be contributing from time to time.]