In reaction to media leaks identifying him as the “Senate Candidate 5” referenced in the criminal complaint against Governor Rod Blagojevich, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. held a press conference yesterday to assert that he is not a target of the federal investigation that has stunned Illinois politics. Following his arrest in the early morning hours on Tuesday, Governor Blagojevich stands accused of one of the most egregious violations of the public trust in recent memory.
At the center of the criminal charges leveled against the governor is his alleged attempt to use the power of his office to gain favor from those seeking to be appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama upon his winning the presidency. The complaint charges that Blagojevich sought personal favors for himself and his wife, as well as political contributions. His activities were monitored by surveillance equipment placed in his campaign headquarters and home by federal agents. One of the incidents allegedly caught on tape is Blagojevich claiming representatives of one Senate hopeful suggesting their candidate was willing to pay the governor up to half a million dollars for the appointment. In the complaint the candidate in question is identified as “Senate Candidate 5.” Yesterday news reports pegged Jackson as the candidate in question.
Appearing on Capitol Hill Jackson took aim at Blagojevich, blasting the governor for misusing his office and corrupting the selection process, and calling for him to resign. "I thought mistakenly that the governor was going to make a decision that's best for the state as well as our nation,” remarked Jackson, “I thought mistakenly I had a chance and was being considered because I had earned it." Prior to the press conference Jackson’s lawyer said the congressman remained interested in the position but realized that his selection might now be tainted.
For Jackson it was the worst possible outcome of an investigation that threatens to undo the momentum Illinois Democrats had coming off the victory of their “favorite son” candidate Barack Obama in the November election. In addition to Blagojevich, the governor’s chief of staff, John Harris, was implicated and his wife, though not charged, is depicted throughout the complaint as a willing supporter of the governor’s “pay to play” schemes. For Illinois residents it marked the second consecutive governor who had run afoul of the law. Blagojevich’s predecessor, Republican George Ryan, was caught up in a scandal that sent him to federal prison.
Jackson has been a rising star in Democratic politics in his hometown and nationally. The nation first got a real glimpse of him when he introduced his father, civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988. Since his election to Congress he has worked hard to establish a reputation as a studious legislator and has taken great pains to develop an identity independent of his famous father. Rep. Jackson was an early supporter of Barack Obama and served as national co-chairman for the senator’s presidential campaign. He was very visible throughout the campaign, making countless appearances on national television and on the campaign trail on behalf of Senator Obama. In one memorable moment during the campaign, Rep. Jackson chastised his father for off the cuff remarks the elder made about Senator Obama in a television studio when Rev. Jackson thought the audio feed was off. Rep. Jackson’s rebuke was an example of the fierce independence he has cultivated; ironically a trait that is owed much to his father.
For some time now Jackson has been seen as a possible successor to Mr. Obama in the Senate. He has also been rumored to be in contention for a possible Cabinet position, perhaps as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both of those possibilities might be moot given the cloud that is now hanging over any Illinois pol seeking to climb the political ladder. With Blagojevich remaining in office, at least for now, anyone who had been in the running for the seat is likely to stay on the sidelines and out of the fray until the governor resigns or the state legislature maneuvers to force Blagojevich out.