by Mick Dumke
Yesterday I thought the clues pointed to congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. as "Senate Candidate 5," and today one of his attorneys, former Chicago corporation counsel and Johnnie Cochran partner James Montgomery Sr., said he too believes it's Junior.
But at a short press conference this afternoon, Jackson himself wouldn't confirm it--and in fact denied that he had ever sent anyone to cut a deal with Governor Blagojevich.
Jackson said he'd spoken with federal investigators Tuesday, and "They shared with me that I am not--I am not--a target of this investigation or accused of any misconduct." He went on to say that he would be talking with the feds additionally about what he knew of Blagojevich's "process" to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. "I look forward to sitting down with them and cooperating fully with the investigation."
Current and former allies of Jackson's have told me repeatedly that he's struggled to figure out his next move since watching Obama's ascent in 2004. Initially, he couldn't help but feel like he was supposed to be the young, smart, dynamic black politician from Chicago with the interpersonal and communication skills to cross racial and class lines--if only he weren't saddled with the name Jesse Jackson.
He was never content with being just a congressman. More than a decade ago he made an alliance with the Reverend James Meeks and began building an impressive political network--he denied it was a "machine" since it didn't have jobs to hand out--that dominated the southeast side and near-south suburbs. Jackson appeared poised to extend his reach in 2006 and 2007; even after he abruptly ended his long flirtation with a mayoral campaign he helped send his wife, Sandi, and several other progressive-minded candidates to the Chicago City Council.
So then what? He may not have known himself. Despite claiming that he wanted to focus on his work in Congress, Jackson continued to slam reform-resistant city and county government, but he passed up the chance to support the state's attorney campaign of longtime friend Howard Brookins Jr., instead making a deal with organized labor and north-shore progressive Larry Suffredin, and his longtime friend Kenny Johnson was defeated in his second straight run for office, this time for the state House.
Jackson's prowess in Chicago appeared to be on the wane--but he was a hit on the stump elsewhere and started pouring his energy into campaigning for Obama. And he campaigned hard: once source tells me he even threatened to run people against congressional colleagues if they didn't back his man.
He clearly wanted to see Obama become our next president, and he clearly wanted Obama's Senate seat, as he acknowledged in today's press conference: "Over the last two and a half years I got the idea that if a skinny kid with a funny name could be president of the United States, then a short kid with a somewhat controversial but somewhat high-profile name could be a senator from Illinois."
Over the summer, starting with his public disagreements with his father and his appearances at the Democratic convention--his powerful "Illinois is America!" speech and his attempts to kiss and make up with foes--Jackson launched his own bid, for Obama's seat in the Senate. And he hit this campaign no less hard than Obama's, seeking political and newspaper endorsements and pitching his case to anyone he could. Supporters even set up a Facebook group for his effort.
The Blago affidavit says the governor discussed possible terms of a deal with Senate Candidate 5:
"On December 4, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke to Advisor B and informed Advisor B that he was giving Senate Candidate 5 greater consideration for the Senate seat because, among other reasons, if ROD BLAGOJEVICH ran for re-election Senate Candidate 5 would “raise money” for ROD BLAGOJEVICH, although ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from Senate Candidate 5 to insure Senate Candidate 5 kept his promise about raising money for ROD BLAGOJEVICH. (In a recorded conversation on October 31, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH described an earlier approach by an associate of Senate Candidate Five as follows: “We were approached ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”)"
But later the governor explains his hesitation: "ROD BLAGOJEVICH told Fundraiser A to tell Individual D that ROD BLAGOJEVICH had a problem with Senate Candidate 5 just promising to help ROD BLAGOJEVICH because ROD BLAGOJEVICH had a prior bad experience with Senate Candidate 5 not keeping his word."
(If Rod Blagojevich accuses you of not keeping your word, does that mean that you're honest or dishonest, smart or dumb, living on this planet or another? Not sure it would hurt anyone at this point to be called a liar by the gov.)
Tuesday U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald warned reporters against jumping to conclusions about anyone who appears to be described in the affidavit, and both Jackson and Montgomery say Junior did nothing wrong. In fact, I'm pretty sure Jackson was telling us that he'd still like to be a U.S. senator when he said he hoped the people of Illinois and the entire country "will measure me by the content of my character."