News of possible Jackson plea sparks speculation
By Natasha Korecki and Becky Schlikerman Sun-Times Media
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill., pictured in 2011) “is responding well to the treatment and regaining his strength,” according to the Mayo Clinic, which issued a statement at Jackson’s request. | AP
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s vanquished rivals on Thursday were highly critical of him after hearing the news that the freshly re-elected Democrat is in plea negotiations for allegedly using campaign money for personal expenses.
The surprising news raises the possibility, should Jackson resign or be forced out, of a costly special election in the 2nd Congressional District soon after the general election.
Word of the plea-bargaining talks set off another flurry of interest in the 2nd District seat. The district stretches from Chicago’s South Side into Kankakee County. Jackson, 47, has been on a leave of absence since mid-June while getting treatment for depression related to bipolar disorder.
Marcus Lewis, who ran as an independent Tuesday, voiced his frustration with voters, who gave Jackson 63 percent of the vote.
“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,” Lewis said. “Knowing that (he’s the subject of a House Ethics Committee) investigation. They’re crazy!”
Jackson has not been charged with any crime.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed revealed Wednesday that Jackson is in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors — not only for allegedly using campaign funds to decorate his Washington, D.C. home, but for also buying a $40,000 Rolex watch for a female friend.
A longtime Jackson critic, the Rev. Anthony W. Williams, who ran Tuesday as a write-in candidate, said the Jackson political dynasty manipulated voters.
“The voters of the 2nd District have been cheated once again,” Williams said. “It is important that we call for a special election.”
The Jackson saga has a sense of deja vu. If he pleads guilty, he will be the second congressman in a row from the 2nd District to be convicted of a crime — and the third straight 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.
Jackson has not appeared publicly since June and did not campaign for re-election, except to send a message to voters through a robocall in late October.
“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 related to possible misuse of campaign money.
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 also was convicted of federal charges of bank fraud and lying about misuse of campaign funds.
Three years earlier, Reynolds had ousted U.S. Rep. Gus Savage. Savage was never charged with a crime,but 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.
Constituents in Chicago’s South Shore community, where Jackson has a residence, voiced frustrations on Thursday. Barbara Sims, 60, said she voted for Jackson but would not have done so had she known of the plea negotiations.
“I don’t agree with corruption,” she said, adding that there were no other real options on the ballot in her mind. “He should have come forward. It seems like he waited until he got elected.”
Ronald Fields, 32, a barber at B Selfish Salon and Barbershop, was unmoved by the controversies around Jackson.
“People do things,” he said. “If you pull the covers off, everybody’s got something they got into that they shouldn’t have.”