The once-promising political career of Jesse Jackson, Jr., seems about to crash and burn, amid allegations of scandal, financial impropriety, and controversy.
The son of Civil Rights activist Jesse Jackson, seemed to have all the tools needed to become an excellent lawmaker. It is too bad he squandered them on himself and his lavish lifestyle rather than for the benefit of the people who needed him--the people who elected him to serve their needs.
Now, according to local, regional, and even national reports, Jackson is the target of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe into his financial dealings, and more.
All this is very odd, given that just days ago Jackson handily won re-election in a near landslide victory in his bid to retain his job as congressman in the 2nd Congressional district. Despite Jackson's whereabouts being a secret for months prior to the election, either his constituents were overly loyal to him or they simply voted along racial lines. Most assume the latter, since Jackson has little to show for his years in congress. Racism in some of the poorest black neighborhoods on Chicago's south side is well known. Jackson did little to change that and in fact tried to use it to his advantage.
Jackson spent his entire political career grabbing for the brass ring. Instead of trying to make a name for himself by working hard and revitalizing one of the poorest regions of the country and solving real problems there, Jackson's efforts centered on his own need for self aggrandizement. Often times, it was at others' expense. This was evidenced by the biggest promise he made to his constituents--his effort to solve their economic woes by supporting the construction of one of the biggest projects in Illinois history--Chicago's third airport.
An effort by chambers of commerce on Chicago's south side in 1985 culminated in 1992 when a committee of leaders from Illinois and Indiana as well as the City of Chicago rejected what has become known as the Peotone Airport, so named because its close proximity to Peotone, a small rural town in eastern Will County, about 40 miles south of Chicago.
Two years later, the project was revived by then Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, who once lived in the southern suburbs. At the time there were only two pockets of support for the project--the south suburbs and the western suburbs that bordered O'Hare International Airport. O'Hare neighbors considered a new airport as their solution to O'Hare expansion, which they opposed.
In 1995 the point man who would bridge the gap between the two regions was an energetic, articulate new south suburban congressman, Jesse Jackson, Jr., who filled the unexpired term of U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds who had been arrested in a sex scandal involving an underage campaign worker.
It wasn't long before Jackson glommed onto the project, making it the centerpiece of his congressional career. He lobbied several Illinois governors who tried to hold onto the prospect of trying to duplicate the state's prized economic engine--O'Hare Airport--even at the expense of that prize, the project never really gained footing. The City of Chicago was on the other side, opposing a new airport. Jackson formed his own airport authority with the hope of controlling, managing, and building an airport.
The longtime and sometimes raucous opposition didn't daunt Jackson nor his supporters. Jackson also ignored the growing problems of his district in order to seize the opportunity to land the big project. He promised that the airport would be a boon to their economy, would lift people from poverty and provide thousands of jobs. They believed him.
Jackson continued singing the same song to his constituents and his colleagues in congress, always painting a rosy image and coloring facts. Then he saw an opportunity to help his cause and better his career--a seat in the U.S. Senate--vacated when Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States.
That is when Jackson's problems began. In addition to an extra-marital affair, one of the many investigations into his financial dealings involved suspicion that he offered a huge sum money to ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich in return for appointing him to Obama's senate seat. The emissary who apparently made the offer--Rughuveer Nyak--was arrested by the FBI last June.
Incidentally Blagojevich was arrested on several counts of corruption in December '08 and is currently serving time in a federal prison in Colorado. Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, who also worked with Jackson on the proposed build-the-airport project is also serving time in a federal penitentiary for his corruption while in office.
In 2011 the Congressional Ethics Committee found probable cause to continue to investigate Jackson.
Shortly after Nyak was arrested, in June 2012, Jackson disappeared from public view. He wasn't at his campaign office in Chicago nor was he tending to his duties in Washington. It was later learned that he had a medical condition. Apparently Jackson is suffering from a bi-polar disorder and gastro-intestinal issues related to a previous weight-loss surgery. The public learned after months of not knowing of his whereabouts that he spent some seeking treatment at Mayo Clinic.
There is little sympathy for Jesse Jackson, Jr., by residents of eastern Will County, where lives have been upended for decades because of the turmoil suffered at Jackson's hand.
The people of what had been the 11th congressional district despised Jackson's efforts to claim their area as his own fiefdom. They have been pawns in his game or airport roulette. At their expense, his efforts were somewhat legitimized when the state legislature redrew the 2010 redistricting map. The boundaries of the 2nd congressional district were moved to include much of Will and Kankakee counties.
It is too bad the man is ill, if he really is ill, but it is also too bad that his actions have destroyed lives, land, and hopes of so many. It is too bad Jackson didn't use his skills for good rather than evil.
For that, he needs to pay restitution, even if it is with his own freedom.