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While Jacksons were living it up, district was paying the price

Former U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr. enters U.S. District Court February 20 2013 WashingtD.C. Jackshis wife Sandi Jacksare expected plead guilty

Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. enters U.S. District Court February 20, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Jackson and his wife, Sandi Jackson, are expected to plead guilty to federal charges. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Updated: March 22, 2013 10:49AM



For years, if you went to the corner of 71st and Yates, you’d see a shrine, of sorts.

Spanning three enormous window panels were life-sized photos — one of Sandi Jackson and one of Jesse Jackson Jr., an American flag in the backdrop, beside dozens of campaign signs covering adjacent windows.

This was ground zero of the joint campaign offices for the once politically powerful couple, a constant reminder to the community that the Jackson name, and all the clout that went with it, was part of this neighborhood.

Go down just one block, on either side of the street, and find what that clout got their constituents.

Steps from the Jacksons’ office, you’d see brown boards covering the entirety of windows.

In the blocks nearby, three-flats were boarded up. Single-family homes boarded up. Block after block, brown boards covered up the windows.

Owners had been kicked out, foreclosed on.

The contrast was probably the clearest sign that there was a staggering disconnect between the Jacksons and the people they’re supposed to be serving.

Today, the Jackson name that could have represented so much promise and change is instead added to a lengthy list of corrupt Illinois politicians.

What the Jacksons’ conduct amounts to is what prosecutors on Wednesday characterized as a massive betrayal of trust.

For seven years, the Jacksons racked up more than 3,100 transactions from their campaign account for their own gain, which is against the law. Jackson Jr. also is accused of taking $25,000 in “gifts” from third parties. Through it all, the Jacksons went to great lengths to hide their conduct.

While representing this South Side and suburban district, Jackson purchased four fur coats on a single day that cost a total of more than $5,000. He bought a gold-plated $43,000 Rolex watch. She used campaign money to buy dresses and shop at Costco.

He and his wife ate at four-star restaurants and went on high-end vacations.

They didn’t send their kids to the struggling public schools in Chicago. They didn’t even send their kids to school in Illinois. Their children attend an elite, pricey private school in Washington, D.C.

“It’s important to remember the true victims of the Jacksons’ crimes,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a news conference after court Wednesday in Washington, D.C. “Those victims are the American people who placed their hopes and dreams in them as political officials. Those people listened as Jesse Jackson Jr. eloquently expressed their deepest aspiration. They prayed that his public service would somehow provide a brighter path for them.”

And when it came to the Jacksons, these people were loyal.

Jesse Jackson Jr. was voted into office 10 times. He was able to spend all of his campaign money to boost his personal lifestyle because he never actually had to run a real campaign against a formidable challenger. Sandi Jackson was a 7th Ward alderman in Chicago while living most of her time in Washington — and she was still re-elected.

Last October, the Chicago Sun-Times first reported Jackson was under federal investigation for questions arising over “suspicious activity” in his congressional fund. The story came out well before the Nov. 6 election. He still coasted to victory. The money Jackson collected for his re-election campaign came from unions and oil companies.

But it also came from regular working people from Jackson’s home turf.

“Those contributors were people of modest means, senior citizens on fixed income. Auto workers, teachers, plumbers,” Machen said. “They donated their hard-earned money, so he could through his political movement, somehow better their lives. He betrayed their trust.”

Jackson Jr. and Sandi Jackson pleaded guilty, and the two wept at their plea hearings.

Even then though, the two had a perk not available to typical defendants.

Judy Smith, a crisis manager who was the inspiration for the hit ABC series “Scandal,” privately consoled each at the time of their guilty pleas.

Ultimately, it was the federal investigation that forced both Jacksons to resign their political posts.

In Illinois, political change can come, but too often, it only comes through political indictment.



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