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Brown: Mel Reynolds’ version of redemption doesn’t inspire much confidence

Updated: December 30, 2012 4:04PM

With all the legitimate candidates lining up to run for the congressional seat just vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr., it seems a waste of ink to devote attention to the misguided ambitions of his disgraced predecessor, Mel Reynolds.

Unfortunately, Reynolds forced our hand Wednesday by holding a press conference at a downtown hotel to announce his intentions to reclaim the seat he abdicated after a criminal conviction in 1995.

Reynolds has every right to run, having paid his debt to society, and voters in the 2nd Congressional District have every right to vote for him, although I have every confidence they know better at this point.

Only six percent of the voters in the 2004 Democratic primary chose to vote for Reynolds the last time he tried to put together his nostalgic “Redemption” tour — the word proclaimed from campaign signs behind the podium from which he spoke Wednesday.

It’s not entirely clear what the brilliant, but troubled Reynolds has been doing in the intervening years to improve those voters’ opinion of him.

He told reporters Wednesday he’s been concentrating on raising his three children — a 21-year-old and 19-year-old twins — while also “doing investment opportunities here in Chicago and in Africa.”

He made the latter sound quite prosperous, although for anyone familiar with Reynolds’ first act on the public stage, the reference to African business ventures came across as another of his shaggy dog stories. Perhaps the most famous of these was the time in 1992 he showed up at a press conference with his head bandaged and claimed he had been injured in a drive-by shooting incited by his opponent.

When I challenged Reynolds later Wednesday about these overseas business pursuits, he told me he should have shown me his passport with its 14 stamps showing when he has re-entered the country in the past three years.

I have no doubt that Reynolds is involved in trying to work some kind of an angle.

He has a long history of getting people to give or lend him money — and then suing him to try to get it back.

A quick check of the public records Wednesday showed that nothing much has changed in that regard during the period since Reynolds was released from prison in 2001 after President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence.

A fresh list of creditors has obtained judgments against Reynolds in recent years.

He was evicted in 2010 from a home in Bronzeville after a five-year legal battle over his alleged non-payment of rent.

One of the lawyers who defended him in that case is still seeking payment from Reynolds for $12,542 in fees.

“Maybe when he gets elected to Congress, I can garnish his Congressional salary,” joked attorney Berton Ring.

Ring said he can’t see why Reynolds would be unhappy with his services.

“We were getting him a lot of free time [in the house],” Ring said. “He wasn’t paying anything.”

Reynolds’ landlord in the Bronzeville house, businessman Neil Benjamin, said his decision to rent to the former congressman on a lease-to-own basis was the “biggest business mistake of my life by far.”

Reynolds has his own version of what happened — and indeed beat Benjamin twice in court before finally being evicted.

I’d be the first to tell you some of Reynolds’ financial “victims” aren’t entirely sympathetic characters.

Benjamin, for instance, thought Reynolds could steer business opportunities his way through his political connections.

“Mel Reynolds said he could introduce us to people,” Benjamin said.

Steve Cotsirilos, who has a $44,435 judgment against Reynolds, said his mistake was entering into a financing agreement to help Reynolds save his parents’ home, then loaning him more to help him get out of it.

“It was a disaster,” said Cotsirilos, who called Reynolds a “very convincing guy.”

At his press conference, Reynolds said he shouldn’t continue to be punished for his past “mistakes”— a reference to his convictions for having sex with an underage campaign worker and for financial and campaign fraud.

“You know, all of us have fallen short of our dreams in life on occasion, but it is part of the Judeo-Christian spirit to give people the opportunity to show what they can do,” he said. “The most important thing, I believe, for a person when they make mistakes is what they do after they’ve made mistakes.’’

I agree, but Mel Reynolds has had his chances — plenty of them — and hasn’t done anything to earn another shot at the taxpayers’ dime.

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