Weather Updates

Mitchell: Jesse Jackson Jr.’s fall felt like hope died

Former Rep. Jesse JacksJr. enters U.S. District Court Wednesday WashingtD.C. Jackshis wife Sandpleaded guilty federal charges related misusing campaign funds.

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. enters U.S. District Court Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Jackson and his wife, Sandin, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to misusing campaign funds. | Win McNamee~Getty Images

storyidforme: 45108668
tmspicid: 16672302
fileheaderid: 7497204

Updated: March 25, 2013 6:47AM

Jesse Jackson Jr. got away with spending $750,000 in campaign donations for his personal use because too many people were likely blinded by his prominence.

Frankly, the former congressman’s theft amounts to peanuts when compared to the loot Dixon’s former Comptroller Rita Crundwell stole.

The 58-year-old Crundwell was recently sentenced to 191/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing nearly $54 million over 20 years.

Jackson bought stuffed elk heads and groceries. Crundwell bought live horses and a luxury motor home.

Both of these people got caught with their hands deep in the cookie jar.

Crundwell’s crime was uncovered when an employee discovered her secret account while filling in for the long-time comptroller.

Frankly, after Jackson’s name surfaced in connection with allegations that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to sell a Senate seat, it was only going to be a matter of time before the feds put his campaign finances under a microscope.

Dixon was sinking in red ink. But Crundwell was able to siphon off a staggering sum because of her longevity on the job.

Apparently, her neighbors and colleagues believed the middle-aged woman was so successful breeding horses, she could afford to party like a rock star.

Chicagoans, on the other hand, have seen so many corrupt public officials go to jail, many of us believe that everyone is on the take.

But Jackson’s near super-star status shielded him from a level of scrutiny that might have put him in check before he plunged off this cliff.

As the son of a famous civil rights leader, Jackson was a target for his famous father’s enemies. At the same time, he also enjoyed a built-in level of respect among black people.

And in the short term, there has been little love for a black person who brings down a prominent black person.

For instance, in 1995, then Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Andrea Zopp endured harsh criticism for prosecuting then 2nd District Congressman Mel Reynolds for having sex with an underage girl.

Reynolds claimed to be a victim of “racist and politically motivated prosecution.”

In her closing arguments, Zopp vehemently denied those claims.

Jackson made no such allegations.

With his famous parents looking on, Jackson tearfully pleaded guilty to misusing his campaign funds.

“I misled the American people,” Jackson admitted.

The 47-year-old Jackson waived a trial.

“I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ time or money,” he said.

Unlike Crundwell’s cut and dried case, Jackson’s fall is bursting with irony.

For one thing, his “day of reckoning” came during Black History Month.

It was humbling enough to see the Jackson clan marching into a federal courthouse to support a wayward son. But watching this scene play out during Black History Month added insult to injury.

The timing is a reminder of how far we’ve come as a people — and how far some of our leaders have strayed.

That Ronald C. Machen Jr., a black man, was the person in charge of unraveling Jackson’s financial schemes seemed a case of poetic justice.

In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Machen as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Throughout his long career, the elder Jackson — the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. — has pushed for diversity among the judiciary, especially on the federal level.

Machen looked pained as he laid out the case against Jackson for reporters after the former congressman pleaded guilty.

“The guilty plea today is so tragic because it represents such wasted potential,” Machen said. “Jesse Jackson Jr. had the drive and the ability and the talent to be the voice of a new generation, but he squandered that talent.”

U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins, who will sentence both Jackson and his wife, Sandi, in connection with the schemes, also is black. Obama named Wilkins to the U.S. District Court.

The connection between these players can be traced back to the long civil rights battle in which the elder Jackson had a starring role.

Obviously, the people of Dixon feel betrayed by Crundwell’s theft.

But the younger Jackson’s fall from grace felt like a large chunk of hope died.

And that’s incredibly sad.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.