JESSE JACKSON came to town the other day, urging 12,000 Bostonians at a City Hall rally to avoid the ``terrorism'' of drugs. It was vintage Jackson, with the charismatic black preacher and former presidential candidate overshadowing the mayor, the governor, a US senator, and assorted other officials. the question for Jackson, for the Democratic Party, and indeed for all Americans is this: Can Jesse Jackson remain a real national force if he continues - between presidential campaigns - to be a political skyjumper? Parachuting in to join labor-union picket lines, troubled farmers, drug-beleaguered local officials, and even the occasional overseas troublespot is fine. It indicates a keen political eye, a fine talent for moral persuasion, and at times the ability to get short-term results.
And of course the 1988 Democratic primary elections and convention proved beyond doubt that Jackson's following is not only energetic and well-organized but multi-racial. Would Michael Dukakis have won the nomination (or George Bush the presidency) without him?
But Jackson needs to do more. In fact he owes American voters more, if he intends to try again for the White House.
The president must be a communicator (``great'' or otherwise), but the chief executive also has to get things done. The rap against Jackson is that he's never won an election, never had to meet a payroll (except for Operation PUSH, where the record isn't great) or make the trains run on time.
Some are urging him to run for mayor of the District of Columbia. The nation's capital certainly needs better leadership. And its crime, drug, budgetary, and urban-development problems would give a Mayor Jackson plenty to sink his teeth into. Washington's unique home-rule status (which still has a plantation whiff to it) would give him a special forum for dealing with the White House and Congress.
He needs to decide soon whether to run. In any case, Jesse Jackson needs to prove he can win an election and get results for the laudable agenda he so brilliantly articulates.