Rival: Rep. Jackson ‘cheated’ voters by not revealing plea deal talks
BY NATASHA KORECKI AND BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporters November 8, 2012 9:08PM
Ronald Fields, 32, speaks on E 71st St. in the 2nd Congressional District in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, November 8, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 10, 2012 6:33AM
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. “cheated” the voters.
But, knowing as much as they did, those who re-elected the MIA congressman are “crazy, mindless voters who are taking orders from downtown.”
Those were some of the reactions from Jackson’s just vanquished rivals as they took in the surprise news that the freshly re-elected South Shore Democrat is in plea negotiations for alleged misuse of his campaign funds.
The surprise development also raises the possibility, should Jackson step down or be forced out, of a costly special election straddling at least three counties right after a general election was just held.
Word of the plea talks set off another flurry of interest in the 2nd Congressional District seat. The district includes some of the most economically devastated portions of the city but ostensibly has had no representation since Jackson went on leave in June.
Marcus Lewis, who ran as an independent Tuesday, voiced his frustration with voters, who gave Jackson 63 percent of the vote.
“We’re dealing with crazy, mindless voters who are taking orders from downtown. The 181,000 that voted for Jesse in spite of knowing that the man is up on charges, knowing that he cheated on his wife,” he said. “Knowing that he has a 244-page ethics investigation. They’re crazy!”
Jackson has not been charged with any crime.
But one day after he was re-elected Tuesday in a commanding win, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed revealed that Jackson is in plea negotiations with federal authorities. The story was first reported on the Sun-Times Web site late Wednesday.
Sneed reported that not only is Jackson under investigation for allegedly using campaign funds to decorate his Washington home, but investigators are also trying to determine whether he used campaign funds to buy a $40,000 Rolex watch as a gift for a female friend.
“This needs to be destroyed. This machine needs to be destroyed forthwith,” Lewis said. “They’re playing us like we’re silly. I know people who are suffering in the district. We needed to get in there. It’s a machine that is like a poisonous cobra.”
A longtime Jackson critic, Anthony W. Williams, who ran as a write-in candidate, said the Jackson political dynasty manipulated voters.
“The voters of the 2nd District have been cheated once again,” said Williams. “It is important that we call for a special election.”
The Jackson saga has a sense of deja vu.
If the South Shore Democrat does pleads guilty, he will be the second congressman in a row from the South Side and south suburban district to be convicted of a crime. He is already the third consecutive 2nd Congressional District representative to be embroiled in a sex scandal.
If Jackson were to step down, by law, a special election would have to be held to fill the vacancy. That means that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for a special election.
Chatter of a replacement has already run rampant.
One of the names to surface Thursday was Sam Adam Jr. — the onetime attorney for convicted ex-governor Rod Blagojevich. Adam had been approached by “prominent individuals and an organization,” about his potential candidacy, said a source.
Jackson’s wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), is also considered a potential replacement.
Other names in the mix: Kurt Summers, chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Ald. Anthony Beale (9th); Robin Kelly, who ran and lost for state treasurer; Toi Hutchinson, a state senator from the far south suburbs; Napoleon Harris, the former Northwestern linebacker just elected to the Illinois senate, and state Sen. Kwame Raoul.
From the beginning, Jackson’s opponents were suspicious of the congressman’s multi-month absence from Congress. They called on him to “campaign or resign.”
Lewis called Jackson’s absence “a sham” and accused him of hiding from federal authorities.
Jackson has not appeared publicly except sending a message to voters through a robocall.
“Like many human beings, a series of events came together in my life at the same time and they have been difficult to sort through,” Jackson said in the call, asking constituents for their patience.
That was before the Sun-Times first revealed last month that Jackson was under investigation — a new probe involving alleged improprieties with his campaign finances.
His Republican opponent in the election, Brian Woodworth, had called on voters not to cast a vote for an absentee congressman.
Jackson succeeded Mel Reynolds, who stepped down in 1995 after he was convicted of sexual misconduct, child pornography and obstruction of justice relating to an affair he had with a campaign volunteer who was a minor. Reynolds was also convicted of federal charges of bank fraud and lying to the FEC about misuse of campaign funds.
Three years earlier, Reynolds ousted veteran congressman Gus Savage. Savage was never charged with any crime, but he was the target of a House Ethics Committee inquiry into charges that he made improper sexual advances toward a young woman on a 1989 trip to Zaire.
Jackson promised a “new direction” for the district when he ran in the 1995 special election to succeed Reynolds.
Constituents in the South Shore neighborhood where Jackson has a residence, voiced frustrations on Thursday.
Barbara Sims, 60, who was at Chef Sara’s Café drinking coffee with a friend. said she voted for Jackson, but had she known of the plea negotiations she wouldn’t have voted for him.
“I don’t agree with corruption,” though she added there were no other real options on the ballot in her mind. “He should have come forward,” she said. “It seems like he waited until he got elected.”
Raymond Noble, 69, a retired city worker from South Shore, said he wasn’t surprised by the Sun-Times report.
“In Chicago. It’s going to happen from time to time.”
Ronald Fields, 32, a barber at B Selfish Salon and Barbershop was equally unmoved.
“People do things,” he said. “If you pull the covers off, everybody’s got something they got into that the shouldn’t have.”
Former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer said the situation is tough to swallow for constituents. He pointed out that Jackson didn’t reveal he was being treated for a mental illness until the deadline for opponents to file had passed. And now word of the plea talks comes right after he’s re-elected.
“There are no coincidences,” said Cramer. “It’s hard to be even more cynical in Illinois when it comes to corrupt politicians. Maybe we just hit a new low here.”
Republican Woodworth had a more sobering take.
“If this had come out before the election, I don’t think it would have had an impact.”
“Go national and ask people what they think about Chicago politics. There’s a perception that politics is corrupt,” he said. “You just kind of get used to this idea that your politicians have a reputation of corruption.”