Former Northwestern football player to run for Congress in Chicago

Patrick Svitek, Online Managing Editor

A former Northwestern football player declared Monday that he will contend for the U.S. House seat in Chicago’s south suburbs left open by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

“I’m running,” Illinois state Sen.-elect Napoleon Harris told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The primary reason I chose to run for the state Senate is the heartbeat and the pulse of my constituents. But over the last few months, we’ve gotten overwhelming support to put my name in the ring for the congressional seat.”

Harris started at outside linebacker then defensive end during his four years at NU before being picked up by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft. He spent seven seasons with the Raiders.

Earlier this month, Harris cruised to an easy win in Illinois’ 15th district for state Senate, which is centered on Harvey, Ill., just west of the Indiana border. The state Senate district almost completely overlaps the U.S. congressional district that Jackson Jr. has held since 1995.

Jackson Jr., whose father is the famous civil rights leader by the same name, resigned Nov. 22 amid a federal ethics investigation and self-described health issues. Earlier this summer, Jackson Jr. took a medical leave from Congress, attributing it to what his office called “exhaustion.” The South Shore lawmaker puzzled House colleagues and political observers as he bounced between the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., his residence in Chicago and Washington, D.C., throughout the rest of the summer.

Harris enters a crowded field for the special election, which is expected to be held April 9, 2013. Since Jackson Jr. made his resignation official, nearly a dozen Chicago Democrats have flirted with pursuing what one possible candidate told Politico was the “chance of a lifetime.”

Harris was “one of the most athletic defensive players in the country” while he played for the Wildcats, according to an NU Sports profile. The Sporting News listed him as the best outside linebacker in the country ahead of the draft.

— Patrick Svitek