February 17, 2013
This being Chicago, where political dynasties have their hands kissed by journalism and commerce, expect the following about former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, the former 7th Ward alderman:
Lamentations for what might have been for the onetime "power couple," whose criminal charges were released Friday about the time another South Side politician arrived in Chicago from Washington.
Expect some media hand-wringing, and wailing and piteous cries, references to civil rights and racism conquered and the good fight against evil and the arc of the patriarch, the Rev. Jesse "King of Beers" Jackson, who wanted so much more for his son.
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If you want to read all that, go somewhere else.
Because this is not the place to weep for Junior and Sandi. They were African-American royalty in Chicago. They talked a good game from the lofty moral high ground. Yet they were revealed, allegedly, as two-bit chiselers.
For who but chiselers would talk loudly about the poor and the downtrodden and rail against a corrupt machine and then allegedly reach into campaign funds to pull out $750,000 to live large?
And now they will be remembered for ruining their reputations for stupid things, like that $4,000 guitar signed by Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson. And the mink capes and the other baubles and the kids' furniture and that $43,000 Rolex?
Jackson Jr., whom I affectionately call "Bud Light," was charged with conspiracy. His wife, who served as 7th Ward alderman even though she lived in Washington and ignored her ward, was charged with filing false tax returns.
What makes it all even more astounding is that years ago, after Jackson had barely escaped the Blagojevich affair — implicated in a scheme to buy the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama — Jackson allegedly kept grabbing campaign cash.
They're expected to plead guilty to the charges. And meanwhile, you should expect another act in the Jackson Family Circus. It's been going on for months now, months of selective leaks and playing dumb and media manipulation, ever since Jackson signed himself into the hospital for emotional problems, about the time the feds began crawling up those mink capes.
And not only mink capes. How about $10,105 for Bruce Lee memorabilia, and $26,700 spent on Michael Jackson stuff — like the King of Pop's fedora for only $4,600 — and on and on.
If some kid from the Roseland neighborhood, in Jackson's former congressional district, sticks up a corner store for a few hundred dollars, that kid could get up to 30 years in Stateville.
But Bud Light? Sandi?
They won't do that kind of time. They've finessed this thing. A stickup man steals from only one or two people. But if the charges are true, the Jacksons stole the trust of their voters. I can hear people in their district now, ridiculing them not for the specifics, but for the general stupidity and cheapness of it all. They're already saying the Jacksons threw it all away. And that's inexcusable to people who never had a thing.
So don't ask me to feel sorry for these two. They had advantages of name and position. They had the name of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. But there are two things they didn't have: discipline and true Chicago cunning.
Discipline is vital in Chicago when it comes to amassing fortunes through noble public service. There are others in this town, members of the established Democratic political dynasties, who don't make stupid mistakes. They have their behinds routinely smooched, they're feared and praised, but they don't pilfer the campaign funds like some pirate seeing gold for the first time.
Instead, these guys learned how to do things right. And long before novelist Tom Wolfe cried "Insulate! Insulate! Insulate!" — explaining how the upper classes deal with urban life — the Irish-American patriarchs of Chicago were insulating like crazy.
They develop law practices; the fees are all written down, real legal-like.
A law degree is a license for politicians to drive fast in Chicago.
The Madigans are led by the most powerful man in Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Boss Madigan is a lawyer. He controls all legislation in the state. As state Democratic Party chairman, he elects the assessors and the judges. By complete coincidence, he's made a fortune in the tax reduction business. How? It's a Chicago thing.
But Madigan's daughter, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, is in line to be the next governor, applauded by even her father's critics as he shepherds her toward greater power. How? It's a Chicago thing.
Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, is a lawyer. He's worth millions. And the Daley boys — lawyers and insurance salesmen — have made fortunes, although it probably doesn't hurt to have a father and a brother running this town for half a century.
But Jackson? He has a law degree, but he never took the bar exam. Passing the bar takes discipline. It's more difficult than making a speech.
Obama was a practicing lawyer, making friends and money, even finding a real estate fairy of his own, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, now in federal prison.
Obama was in town Friday, on the South Side, talking to teens and parents about gun violence in Chicago while the charges against Jackson were released in Washington. Once upon a time Jackson Jr. had the buzz about him and Obama was on the periphery.
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