Blagojevich trial: How damaging to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.?
Prosecutors in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 'pay-to-play' trial say US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois was directly involved in a potential $1 million offer to win a US Senate seat.
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Before Jackson was linked with Blagojevich, he enjoyed a relatively untarnished image in Illinois politics.Skip to next paragraph
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He was one of the few figures outside of Chicago’s tightly controlled political machine considered a viable challenger to longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Jackson announced his candidacy to run against Mayor Daley in early 2006 but left the race months later, saying he was best suited to helping Democrats control Congress, when his party won majority rule that November.
His congressional district stretches from Chicago’s South Side to the rural outposts of Chicago’s Southwest suburbs, which means his support crosses several demographic lines, particularly race. Obama helped raise Jackson’s national profile when he picked him as national co-chairman for his successful presidential campaign.
Jackson also managed to step outside the large shadow of his father, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Unlike his father, whose own political ambitions foundered, the younger Jackson was starting to build a political machine of his own, which at front and center featured his wife, Sandi Jackson, a Chicago alderwoman.
The buzz around Jesse Jackson Jr.
Because of their charisma, good looks, and savvy political dealmaking, the couple was once considered “Chicago’s future first family,” says Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a Chicago-based nonprofit that urges governmental transparency. “There was a buzz around them that politicians love to have.”
Ms. Canary says Wednesday’s testimony “has the potential of hurting [Jackson] tremendously.”
Prosecutors say Blagojevich later warmed to the idea of picking Jackson, but wanted to make sure the congressman would deliver on fundraising.
“I can cut a better political deal with these Jacksons … but some of it can be tangible upfront," Blagojevich is heard telling his brother Robert in a phone call recorded Dec. 4, 2008.
Blagojevich directed his brother to set up a meeting with Nayak, Jackson’s representative. But the meeting was canceled once The Chicago Tribune broke the story that the former governor was under federal investigation.
Canary says it is surprising that Jackson was willing to risk dealing with Blagojevich at a time when it was widely known – even to the governor – that he was under investigation.
“In those final months in office he was toxic. Everybody knew,” she says. “He was absolutely radioactive but some seemed willing to try to take that on.”