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Dear Congressman Jackson:
Your commentary in Wednesday’s Tribune, detailing some of the Daley administration’s taxpayer-funded corruption and waste, was a provocative and desperately needed counterpoint to the mayor’s claim that we need to swallow nearly $300 million in new taxes to “keep Chicago moving forward.”
It also ticked a lot of people off.
Frankly, my first reaction to the piece was relief. Finally, I thought, someone of prominence is stepping forward to try to challenge Mayor Daley on his management of city finances and resources.
Then I became frustrated, because I realized again that this challenge came a year too late.
I’ve since talked to quite a few people who were downright pissed and called you a few choice names, most of them questioning your testicular virility, as Gov. Blagojevich once put it. (They obviously haven’t seen the pictures of you practicing your various martial arts.)
In your Trib piece, you repeatedly referred to a period in 2006 when you were “exploring” a run for mayor. It's clear that much of the criticism you laid out in this piece is based on research and preliminary campaign work you and your team did when you were acting like a Daley opponent for a few months there. Though some of your claims—your numbers—appear to be exaggerated by a few million bucks here or there, your central point deserves serious examination: We need to seriously review, if not revolutionize, the way this city is run.
It’s just too bad you didn’t have enough commitment to this idea to step up and run your own campaign for mayor.
Look, don’t get too full of yourself: I’m not saying people see you as a savior. I’m not denying that lots of people can’t stand you simply because you have the name Jesse Jackson. I'm not saying you or anyone could get into position to beat Daley in an election.
But I do think that there’s a pretty good chance that if you stopped waffling and started to consistently show that you’re in this fight, you’d win a lot of respect and support. People might even decide they like you a little.
I’ve had the chance to talk with you one-on-one quite a few times now. At first I thought you were a blowhard and a really good actor, someone who’s just smart and experienced enough to know how to sweet-talk progressives.
I’m still not sure that isn’t true, but I’ve also seen the way you took the time to listen to the line of well-wishing nut cases, elderly women, hardened union guys, and people who claimed to have marched 30 years ago with your dad—all while you were trying to eat a little breakfast before speaking at a rally. I’ve seen how you can get a crowd energized—not just for the guy they already plan to vote for, but for the idea that they’re part of a movement for social change. And I’ve also seen how you can get people on board and then turn around and walk away.
Personally, as a reporter and a citizen, I don’t care if you’re just a skilled, shrewd politician. Some people are fans of Mayor Daley and his flower gardens, some aren’t, but what seems obvious is that for the city to continue to function, its policy decisions have to come about through serious, well-informed debate. While the City Council has more reform-minded members than it's had in years, aldermen are still primarily consumed with delivering services to their wards. The council will almost never position itself against the man they depend on to do that.
I’m not sure anyone but a skilled, shrewd, aggressive, and—to be blunt—extremely self-confident politician can face off with Daley and his political operation.
Shortly before you pulled the plug on your mayoral bid last fall, you asked me, in so many words, why you should make yourself a sacrificial lamb. If other progressives wouldn’t back you or even join you on a citywide ticket, you said there was no point in even trying. “I’ve got to have somebody with me!” you said in a near shout. “It’s the only way it can be done!”
Actually, it’s not the only way it can be done. Look, you have an important job already as a U.S. congressman. I for one wouldn’t fault you if, like most of our congressional delegation, you decided to keep your mouth shut about local politics and simply tried to get a few things done in Washington.
But you seem to feel called to weigh in on the ugly stuff that happens around here. I don’t see how that’s anything but good for the city—if you’re going to stand behind your occasional words. You didn’t run for mayor because your polling numbers weren’t promising? Well, maybe people want to see if you’re interested in doing more than talking. If you’re going to surface every six months or every year to blast the mayor, then disappear while others are left here to wage the fight, your poll numbers are going to keep going down. And they should.
If, on the other hand, you take the risk of alienating a few machine Democrats, if you consistently offer an alternative to the rule-by-decree approach of Mayor Daley, if you show people that you care about more than getting your name in the papers once in awhile, if you get into this to make the city better and not just see if you can run a sure-thing campaign—well, in that case, you might be able to accomplish something.
And your poll numbers might get better, too.
Thanks for your time,