On Tuesday, voters in a primary here overwhelmingly picked Robin Kelly to compete for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat in a special election on April 9. Behind Kelly stood a very non-Chicagoan political action committee, Independence USA, which is funded by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and spent some $2 million on television ads against Kelly’s main opponent, former Rep. Debbie Halverson. Bloomberg, nearing the end of his third term as mayor, is making gun control his next big project; the election of Kelly over Halverson — a Democrat who received high marks from the National Rifle Association — was the opening salvo in what’s expected to be a wider campaign.
Kelly, running largely on a gun control platform, took an early stand on the issue back in November, as the seat in this district came open with Jackson’s resignation in the face of federal fraud charges. It was a platform that appealed to people in a district plagued with rampant gun violence, particularly on the South Side of Chicago. (More than 500 people were killed by gun violence in 2012, and this year the number is projected to grow even higher.)
Kelly, wasn’t directly endorsed by Bloomberg’s PAC — the group aired ads that largely emphasized her opponent’s ties to the NRA. She also maintained that she and the Mayor did not know each other and that she did not know that he would spend so much money to defeat her opponent.
“You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation,” Kelly said to voters in her victory address on Tuesday. “A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end.”
But aside from her stance on gun control and her all-but-assured win on April 9 in this heavily Democratic district, what else do we know about this 56-year-old former state representative? Here are a few fast facts:
- Born April 30, 1956 in New York City. She has two children with her husband, Nathaniel.
- Attended Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where she earned her bachelors and masters degrees. She later completed a Ph.D in political science at Northern Illinois University.
- Worked in a variety of government and academic jobs before entering politics, including as Minority Student Services Director at Bradley University; Community Affairs Director for Matteson, Illinois; and Cook County Chief Administrative Officer.
- Elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2002 and won three terms. After being reelected for a third term, which she won after running unopposed, Kelly resigned to serve as chief of staff to Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. In 2010 she ran for Treasurer herself, but lost narrowly to Illinois State Senator Dan Rutherford.
- Announced her candidacy for the 2nd Congressional District in January, becoming one of 16 candidates vying for Jesse Jackson Jr’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She won the Feb. 26 primary with 52% of the vote, although a snowstorm and “lack of voter interest” kept turnout down to about 15%.
- In addition to her gun control proposals — which include an assault weapons ban, curtailing concealed carry permits and the closure of the so-called “gun show loophole” — Kelly also campaigned on a platform of help for low-income Americans, backing the Affordable Care Act, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and aid for needy families.
- Kelly will run against the winner of the Republican primary, activist and convicted felon Paul McKinley, in the April 9 special election.