Republican voters are suggesting the 2nd Congressional District replace one felon with another after picking ex-convict Paul McKinley as the candidate to run for the seat recently ceded by former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
While official results in the GOP special election will not be certified until next month, McKinley had a 23-vote lead over Eric Wallace, a multimedia company owner from Flossmoor, with all precincts reporting Wednesday.
McKinley, a convicted felon who served nearly 20 years in state prison for burglaries, armed robberies and aggravated battery, declared victory. Wallace, however, was not willing to concede, and he called the prospect of McKinley representing the GOP "an embarrassment."
McKinley is a frequent protester in Chicago with nearly a dozen arrests to prove it. His campaign mantra has been to rage against the machine. During candidate forums, McKinley has given passionate speeches blaming all of the district's woes on the long rule of the Democratic Party machine on the South Side and in the south suburbs.
"I was the only one in this party making the effort to rattle the saber against the machine," said McKinley, who would square off against Democrat Robin Kelly in the April 9 special election in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. "I think that's what resonated."
As McKinley celebrated his apparent victory, the state's Republican leadership was coming to grips with the fact that its party had just nominated someone with a long rap sheet to run in a district where the last three Democratic congressmen have left office amid scandal. That includes Jackson, who pleaded guilty last week to federal charges.
Pat Brady, the state's Republican chairman, had no comment Wednesday about McKinley's prospects. Privately, Republican leaders expressed dismay and concern. Given the historic Democratic leanings of the district, no national or state financial help from Republicans is likely, they said.
Wallace, who appears to have fallen just short for the GOP nomination, still holds out hope.
"We're waiting for all of the outstanding ballots to be tallied, including provisional as well as absentee," said Wallace, who lists a doctorate in biblical studies. "With it being this close, it wouldn't make a lot of sense not to wait for those to be counted. There could be 30, 40, 50 absentee ballots out there."
But in Cook County, there were just four such ballots. In Chicago there were three outstanding absentee or mail-in ballots and 67 provisional ballots. It's unclear how many of those provisional ballots were for the Republican primary, but very few GOP ballots were pulled in the city.
"He has that right, but he sounds a lot like Mitt Romney," McKinley said of Wallace's wait, alluding to Romney's delay in conceding victory in November to President Barack Obama.
Wallace expressed disappointment in the turnout, especially the low number of votes cast in Will and Kankakee counties, where he said many Republicans chose to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary to support Debbie Halvorson, who had opposed the president's proposed assault weapons ban.
"All they did was contribute to Robin Kelly winning, and now the Republican who is in the lead — and I've gotten to know Paul and like him — but Paul is a convicted felon," Wallace said. "If he ends up winning, it's just going to be an embarrassment for the Republican Party."
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, McKinley was sentenced to concurrent three- and four-year sentences in 1978 for burglary and armed robbery in Cook County. In 1981 he was sentenced to four years for burglary, according to a prisons agency spokeswoman.
In 1985, McKinley was sentenced to five years for two counts of aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and 30 years for armed robbery. He was paroled in 1997, according to the state.
Two weeks ago, the Tribune asked the Cook County circuit court clerk's office to provide the old court records tied to those convictions. As of Wednesday, the records were not available. McKinley once again declined to discuss the convictions.
From 2003 through 2007, McKinley was arrested 11 times in the county for various offenses, most of them tied to protests. In many cases, the charges ultimately were dropped.
During a June 2005 bench trial, McKinley was found not guilty on two felony counts of threatening a public official. The case stemmed from a protest in which then-3rd Ward Ald. Dorothy Tillman accused McKinley of telling her to "take your country ass back to Mississippi. I'm going to get your country ass." McKinley insisted he was exercising his right to free speech and was acquitted, according to records.
In 2007, McKinley was sentenced to 20 hours of community service after being found guilty of disorderly conduct during a City Council meeting protest, records show. McKinley used a bullhorn to scream "profanity-laced statements" to aldermen as they were speaking, according a police report. Police arrested McKinley after he refused to stop banging on the glass window in the seating gallery overlooking the council chambers, records show.
McKinley also pleaded guilty to a June 2007 charge of criminal trespass to land. According to court records, he was asked to leave the Homan Square Foundation after his questions about the nonprofit's hiring procedures had been answered. The group advocates for the redevelopment of the West Side site that used to be Sears headquarters.
The candidate has not shied away from his arrest record during the campaign.
"I'm the ex-offender trying to save the next offender, and I believe Robin Kelly, she will become the next offender, too," McKinley said. "All of these next offenders in this district have been Democrats."
Kelly declined to be interviewed Wednesday.
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