09/22/2010 11:26 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Last Chance

When Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) dropped his press conference bomb on the political universe, announcing that he was stepping away from city hall for good, the first name that popped up as a replacement was White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. That seemed natural, given Emanuel's public hints. But, another name that floated only yards behind him, especially among observers in the Black political world, was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL).

Recent polls had Jackson running tight at Emanuel's heels, sometimes in second or third place, an apparent good look for the Congressman who has served Chicago's Southland southeast suburbs and its notoriously rougher South Side since 1995. And Jackson had been relatively quiet and floating below radar since the 2008 elections ... atypical of the Jackson personality. But, with Daley out of the picture, Jackson went back to his rather vocal self, a shadow of his activist family roots.

Perhaps waiting for the radioactivity of his famous father's cable network gaffe to fade away, or simply cautious in the wake of alleged connections to former Governor Rod Blagojevich's (D-IL) federal corruption case, Jackson laid low. A House Ethics Committee investigation on hold, and the news of Blagojevich's trial appearing to fade, it seemed smart. Even political observers began commenting on the rarity of a Jackson sighting, like Waldo on Capitol Hill, especially since his position as Candidate Obama's national co-chair was expected to pay serious dividends.

But, Blago happened and, as promised, he didn't go away.

The eccentric, boisterous attempt-at-an-Elvis-impersonation on political steroids is the itch that Jackson can't scratch. Just when the Congressman thought it was safe to show his face, announcing a bold run to become the Windy City's 2nd African American Mayor since Harold Washington's tragic death in 1987, the Blagojevich trial smacks cold Lake Michigan gust into it.

Only a week after Jackson's political star seemed to re-emerge, reports are already surfacing about a possible pay-to-play scheme from a stealthy fundraiser now turned cooperating witness for federal prosecutors. Engineering a squeeze on Jackson to raise $6 million for President Obama's old Senate seat, Raghuveer Nayak claims he flew a blonde Peruvian hostess to Chicago twice to meet with Jackson in what the Congressman is now describing as a "private and personal matter between me and my wife."

For a number of reasons, Jackson should be, at this point, effectively shutting down any political aspirations beyond stubbornly maintaining his Congressional seat. As reports continue leaking about Jackson's personal indiscretions, he will have little choice but to let the opportunity go. The closest he can get to City Hall is by brokering a deal with his wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson. No doubt, 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' and the Congressman will probably place a Mayoral campaign and political machine on the table as an act of marital contrition. The trick, however, will be Alderman Jackson's ability to navigate her husband's mounting public and potentially legal troubles. Differences could be set aside between father and son, a quiet alliance offering both solace and political cover through consolidation of interests. This would be the more prudent strategy. Over time, Jackson should gradually remove himself from focus on city politics and immerse himself in Capitol Hill wonkishness.

Chicago being ... Chicago, it is rather likely that the race for Illinois' 2nd Congressional spot will become as crowded as the Mayoral race - but, not until the next round in 2012. Jackson has time - two years is an eternity in politics and by 2012 he can hope that voter attention spans have ended up elsewhere. Black Republican Isaac Hayes' spirited bid against Jackson this cycle is for naught in an area dominated by Democratic bosses and organization captains.

Still, this is 2nd Congressional. The curse of Congressmen Past courses through its veins, from Gus Savage's colorful personality to Mel Reynolds' prison terms for sexual assault and bank fraud. Somehow, amid the troubles before him, Jackson will have to figure out a way to break that cycle.


(originally published in