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Lynn Sweet: Jesse Jackson Jr.’s agony: He couldn’t escape father’s shadow

U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr.'s desk WashingtD.C. | Lynn Sweet~Sun-Times Media

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s desk in Washington D.C. | Lynn Sweet~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:20AM



WASHINGTON — The House office suite here of now-former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is a monument to his better days, what was and what might have been.

Jackson quit Congress on Wednesday, battling health issues and a federal criminal probe centered on his campaign funds. He hasn’t been to his Rayburn Building office since he vanished in June, eventually landing in Mayo Clinic to treat his bipolar depression.

His desk is frozen as he left it — with two computers and, under the glass, a Chicago Sun-Times front page from May 22, 2007, featuring the swearing-in of his wife, Sandi, as a Chicago alderman as Jackson and their two kids looked on. A deer with antlers he bagged is mounted on a wall, along with photos from the hunt of Jackson kneeling proudly with his kill.

There is a framed Sports Illustrated spread of Jackson holding a football, ready to leap, seemingly, over the Capitol Dome, and a picture of him and Mother Teresa.

He’s shaking hands with Al Gore in one picture, smiling with Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton in another.

The most telling for me is Jackson standing behind Nelson and Winnie Mandela — his arm stretched and his fist clenched with them in a salute. The very day the great South African leader was released from prison near Cape Town in 1990, Jackson somehow got in the picture. He was there, of course, because of his father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

Jackson’s blessing and curse is to be the namesake son of a famous self-made man. I always sensed his agaony was that he could never get out of the shadow of his father. Part of that he brought on himself, by going into the family business: politics. In Congress, he landed a plum assignment on the Appropriations Committee as a hat tip to his dad.

He was a hard worker, a consistent progressive vote with some obsessions. A minor one was getting to the State of the Union speech each year hours early so he could get an aisle seat visible on TV as he jumped out to greet the president. Jackson was consumed with building an airport at Peotone.

I remember our first interview after he came to Congress in 1995. We talked about his growing up. I was struck that almost every job he had was because he was his father’s son.

My sense is he was very pained during Barack Obama’s first presidential run. He was a co-chair, but the campaign did not make him a high-profile surrogate.

Though Jackson resigned on Wednesday, he has been sidelined and muzzled since Dec. 9, 2008 — when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested.

Jackson, who was angling for Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate spot Obama had held, was implicated in the Blagojevich scheme to “sell” the seat. That cloud never lifted.

Besides sending his resignation letter to House GOP and Democratic leadership, Jackson copied it only to: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has known him since he was a kid through his dad; the present and incoming Congressional Black Caucus chairs, and colleagues Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, the other African Americans in the Illinois delegation, who have always given Jackson the benefit of the doubt.

There’s one other picture on Jackson’s office wall that caught my attention. Jackson and his father bracket former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Wrote Bush, “Good luck in your exciting life ahead.”

It was for awhile. But not for now.



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