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Laurel White/MEDILL

Debbie Halvorson passionately replies to attacks on her gun-control record during a 2nd Congressional District debate on Wednesday night.

Hadiya’s neighborhood, Hadiya's issue

by Laurel White
Jan 31, 2013


Laurel White/MEDILL

Five Democratic candidates participated in the debate at Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields.

Hadiya Pendleton was murdered blocks away from the 2nd Congressional District. The 15-year-old making national headlines – the honor student who performed at President Obama’s inauguration – was killed about a mile from the president’s Chicago home on Tuesday.

Gun murders aren’t unfamiliar to the 2nd District, which comprises parts of Chicago’s bullet-riddled South Side and south suburbs.

Candidates in the special election to represent the district in the wake of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s resignation have been directing attention to frontrunner Debbie Halvorson’s “A” rating from the NRA and her opposition to a national assault weapons ban.

“It’s been very frustrating to watch what’s going on,” Halvorson said at a debate in Olympia Fields Wednesday night. “It’s a shame that I’m having to watch a commercial that portrays me as someone that has this “A” from the NRA – a half a million dollar ad buy.”

The ad in question is a takedown financed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun SuperPAC. The ad has run in local markets during morning newscasts this week.

Halvorson is in a difficult political position as she attempts to wrap up the district’s rural, white, typically pro-gun vote while balancng the obvious needs of Chicago’s South Side communities.

“She’s not going to be really pro-gun, she’s not going to be anti-gun,” said Phillip Beverly, professor of political science at the South Side’s Chicago State University. “I would expect in terms of rhetoric that she would be reluctant to impose gun limitations, but would want to approach the problems as public- health problems and focus on things that are universally accepted: universal background checks, closing the gun-show loophole.”

At the debate, Halvorson outlined her support of universal background checks, increasing penalties on straw buyers and closing the gun-show loophole.

She has pointed out that her “A” rating from the NRA came when she was a  U.S. Representative for Illinois’ rural 11th District. Halvorson voted against the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2009, which would allow the concealed carry of weapons.

She remains unchanged on her opposition to a national assault weapons ban.

“Cook County has an assault weapons ban, but yet we have more murders in the city of Chicago than anywhere in the country,” she said. “Less than two percent of those murders can be attributed to the assault weapon.”

Opponents Robin Kelly and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) continued to position themselves as staunch anti-gun candidates during the debate.

“I am a person that’s very proud of my “F” rating from the NRA,” Kelly said. “ I said that’s one “F” that I’m proud of. I don’t need to go back and study, I don’t need to take the tests over.”

Hutchinson drew emotional parallels between the slain Hadiya and her own 14-year-old daughter. She also called attention to the relationship between gun violence, race and impoverished communities.

“There’s a different complexion to mass shootings than there is to the violence in urban areas, and we all know it,” she said. “There has to be a whole lot more emphasis on giving kids a reason to live instead of not caring whether they die.”

The audience, about 100 community members perched on Rich Central High School’s bleachers, listened with rapt attention to the candidates' volleys – some with more appreciation than others.

“They were all a little evasive. I’m wondering, if they were elected, if they’d really listen to the voice of the people or the lobbyists,” said audience member Shirley Wilborn of Olympia Fields.

“They all hit on key points,” said Mike Brown of Lansing. “Toi was very passionate.”

Local attorney Ernest B. Fenton and Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who are both polling significantly behind the female frontrunners, joined Hutchinson, Halvorson and Kelly at the debate.

The Democratic primary for the 2nd District special election will be held on Feb. 26.