Bobby Rush Says Jesse Jackson Jr. His Wife Deserves Our Forgiveness

US Representative Bobby Rush has written to President Joe Biden asking for a “buyout”.

He is asking for an unconditional pardon for former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago city councilman.

Rush wrote, “Although their crimes are serious, I firmly believe that Jesse and Sandi not only showed remorse, but also atoned for it.”

In his July 19 letter, he notes, “As lawmakers with long histories of public service, Jesse and Sandi — like all of us — were not without flaws. Both, however, took responsibility for their actions.

Jackson Jr. served Illinois’ 2nd congressional district from 1995 until November 2012, when he resigned in disgrace. Sandi Jackson represented Chicago’s 7th Ward from 2007 to 2013.

Both pleaded guilty and served time in prison – Jesse, for wire and mail fraud, having been charged with spending $750,000 on campaign funds. Sandi, for filing false tax returns.

Lobbying the White House on behalf of the Jacksons could be Rush’s last major act on the congressional stage. He is retiring after 15 terms representing Illinois’ 1st congressional district, which spans parts of the South Side and southern suburbs of Chicago.

“Both have served their sentences and paid full compensation for their crimes,” Rush wrote. “Since their release, Jesse and Sandi have lived their lives as law-abiding citizens, focusing on the growth and well-being of their two children.”

Rush doesn’t take their crimes lightly, and their downfall was a “disappointment,” he told me when we recently met at a Bronzeville cafe.

“We all want the opportunity to find redemption. We all need to be redeemed from something,” said Rush, an ordained minister and former Black Panther radical and Chicago city councilman.

“I look at what they have done in the past and also what the potential is for the future.”

The past and the potential are steeped in the Jackson family saga.

Reverend Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow PUSH, an international civil rights activist, traveling international diplomat, and two-time presidential candidate.

Jesse, his eldest son, inherited his father’s name, charm, charisma and connections. In 1995, these attributes prompted him to become a member of Congress.

Jackson was once a major player in local and national politics. He hammered economic development and jobs as his No. 1 priority in the majority-black district. He loudly bragged about the hundreds of millions of federal dollars he’d brought home and launched a dogged pursuit of a regional airport in the southern suburbs.

Jackson embraced high-tech campaign strategies long before many of his peers. He has written books on constitutional law and public policy.

When Jackson wasn’t talking, people were talking – about him. They talked about him running for mayor of Chicago. They talked about running for the US Senate or that he could become the first black speaker of the US House.

In 1997, Newsweek magazine named Jackson, then just 32, one of “100 people to watch” in the 21st century. “Jackson inherited his father’s oratorical gifts and is beginning to acquire his political base. It’s a hit in Congress. Will he be the first black president? Newsweek wrote.

By dint of pride and ambition, he fell. Back in 2012, I wrote that Jackson was like Icarus, the Greek mythological hero who rode a magnificent pair of feather-and-wax wings.

His father, Daedalus, warned him: Go and fly, but stay out of the sun, or your wings will melt. Icarus, full of pride, ignored his father’s advice and fell to his death.

The Jacksons spent campaign money on sports memorabilia, fur capes and parkas and other big-ticket items. The sentencing judge chastised Jackson for using his campaign funds as “a personal piggy bank.”

There were other unsavory and sad episodes, including marital infidelity and Jackson Jr.’s struggles with gastric bypass surgery and bipolar disorder.

That was then, Rush said. Now the Jacksons are desperately needed, especially in the African-American communities they once represented.

“This young man, he has so much to offer in finding solutions to the huge dilemmas and problems, and issues that we face as a community first and foremost, and as a nation,” Rush said.

He added, “I shudder to think that the talent, skills and training of Jesse Jackson Jr. would somehow be trapped on the fringes of our future.”

Rush is asking fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other colleagues to sign a letter of support.

The Jacksons did not ask Rush to make the pardon request, he said.

Rush has a unique and complicated relationship with the Jacksons. He’s known the family since Jackson Jr. was a toddler, “crawling on the floor,” he told me. The Jackson children call him “Uncle Bobby”. Rush served with Jackson Jr. and watched him debate on the floor of the House.

In June, Jesse’s younger brother, Jonathan Jackson, won the Democratic nomination for a crowded race to replace Rush in the 1st District. Rush had endorsed another candidate.

Rush knows the sordid side of Jacksons ambition. In 2008, he was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer.

“There was a time in my life when I was about to die, really,” he recalled. “There was a rumor that Sandi decided to replace me.”

Rush “thank goodness” that he recovered. Now, “People are going to ask, ‘How can you apologize for them, when they walked over your dead body?'”

Forgiveness, he said, is an antidote to violence and pain in his community.

“The inability to forgive keeps our community at a great disadvantage,” he argued. “I hope what I do will inspire a greater spirit of forgiveness in our community and as a result, that we can harness our energy to work for the good of all.”

Forgiveness heals.

The Jacksons were flying too close to the sun. The sun also rises.

Laura Washington is a longtime political commentator and journalist in Chicago. His columns appear in the Tribune every Monday. Write to him at [email protected].

Submit a letter of no more than 400 words to the editor here or email [email protected].

Comments are closed.