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MARY MITCHELL: Jesse Jackson Jr.’s problems tarnish Jackson brand

Updated: March 22, 2013 10:39AM



Some might say former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. just got too big for his britches.

After all, Jackson appeared to have it all:

A famous father.

A doting mother.

A beautiful wife who gave him two beautiful children.

Successful siblings.

His brother Jonathan is so devoted, he told me last week that if he could, he would give his brother his own body rather than see him endure the pain that goes with this public fall from grace.

On Wednesday morning, surrounded by his legendary family, Jackson accepted responsibility for illegally spending $750,000 in campaign money.

Once a rising star, Jackson is expected to spend between three and five years in prison for converting campaign money to his personal use.

Later in the day, former Ald. Sandi Jackson pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud.

Jackson Jr. might have gotten away with dipping into his campaign fund had he not been carried away. After all, it isn’t like he got caught stealing taxpayer’s money or taking bribes.

But the blatant nature of Jackson’s spending is jaw-dropping: Elk heads? Michael Jackson’s fedora? Bruce Lee memorabilia?

In all, Jackson spent about $750,000 in campaign money on everything from household goods to furs and a Rolex watch.

The lavish spending may very well be a manifestation of Jackson’s bipolar disorder.

But his reckless behavior also could be a metaphor for the kind of behavior we see every day in some young black males of far lesser prominence.

Some of these men break the law and risk going to jail in order to buy expensive athletic shoes and cellphones.

Jackson was raised at the feet of civil rights giants — and his way was cleared by people who stood firm in the face of certain calamity.

As the son of a prominent civil rights leader, he saw firsthand the battles that were fought so that his generation could walk through the doors of opportunity.

Yet, he succumbed to the same temptations that have tripped up men who had no role models, let alone a famous one.

Because Jackson never had any serious challengers, his campaign fund became his personal cookie jar. And as political royalty, he was able to operate with little scrutiny into his financial affairs.

That Jackson’s comeuppance happened during Black History Month is both stunning and prophetic. While many of us are focusing on where we have come from, we can’t ignore where we are headed.

The former congressman’s fall also plays into the hands of his family’s detractors and further tarnishes the Jackson brand.

Frankly, a lot of people, particularly whites, have long speculated about how the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. gets paid.

Whenever he gets involved in an issue, I receive emails raising the same questions:

Where does the Rev. Jackson get his money? Who pays for all that flying back and forth? How does someone who doesn’t have a church or a regular job have a middle class lifestyle?

Like most parents who had to claw their way through life, I have no doubt that Jackson Sr. tried to give his son all the things he himself never had.

Before going to Congress, Jackson served as the national field director of the National Rainbow Coalition for a salary that was subsidized by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.

Jackson’s name also helped him trounce seasoned Democrats in his campaign to win his congressional seat. The Jackson name also helped his wife become the 7th Ward alderman, even though it was apparent that she would be spending most of her time in Washington.

At times, the Jackson name was a heavy burden to carry. But it also was a VIP card that was honored all over the world.

Wednesday was a tragic day for the Jackson family but it was also an American tragedy.

“Tell everybody back home I’m sorry I let them down,” Jackson Jr. said outside the courtroom after entering his plea.

I believe him.

How could he not be?



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