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Lynn Sweet: Black Caucus chair asks for lenient sentence for Jesse Jackson Jr.

Jesse JacksJr. Sandi JacksFebruary | AP

Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandi Jackson, in February | AP

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Updated: June 9, 2013 6:39AM



WASHINGTON — I wandered into a nuance-free zone on Tuesday, reading the first wave of letters (there were 14) that the public sent to a federal judge regarding the July 1 sentencing of Jesse Jackson Jr. and wife Sandi.

People who know the couple are asking for leniency. Folks who only know of them — a onetime congressman and former alderman who looted $750,000 from campaign funds to bankroll a seven-year indulgent spending spree — want them shown no special mercy.

There were no in-betweens.

Eight of the letters argued for a break. The most prominent advocate for Jesse Jackson was Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Fudge wrote that even though she and some congressional colleagues in hindsight saw signs of his bipolar illness “during the last 4 to 5 years,” nevertheless, he was a “tireless advocate for the poor and underserved.” He was also the charming “highlight of our karaoke nights.”

“As you weigh the fate of Congressman Jackson, please consider the many fine characteristics he possesses, and his dedicated and passionate service for the people he represented in the United States Congress for nearly 18 years.

“Jesse is worth saving and I know he can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of others as he has with my colleagues and me.”

The letters, written over the past few months, were entered into the respective Jackson case files on Tuesday and did not strike me — so far — as any part of an orchestrated effort one way or the other. That will come later.

I expect a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the Jacksons’ to be part of the sentencing memos their lawyers are preparing, due at the end of the month. Jackson faces up to five years in prison; his wife’s top sentence would be three years.

Perhaps more important than any letter for Jesse Jackson will be how much a mitigating factor — if any — U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson allows for his mental illness.

Martin Dettmer, a Wheaton dentist, urged the judge to not cut the former congressman any slack because of his mental state.

Jesse Jackson’s “behavior reminds us once again that elected officials consider themselves above the law and ‘members’ of some elite and privileged ‘club,’ ” Dettmer wrote.

He urged the judge not to “show leniency” to Jesse Jackson Jr. “due to his mental disease. …Citizen’s everywhere (and especially in Illinois) are sick and tired of behavior like Rep. Jackson’s! A strong message needs to be sent and an example needs to be made! Please do everything in your power to see that Rep. Jackson pays, and pays dearly, for his egregious and repulsive behavior.”

An Arlington Heights man, Neal Underwood, wrote that he “betrayed the public trust for his personal gain. His sentence should reflect that.”

The couple pled guilty last February and both were quite contrite in court.

Frank Bailey, from Oak Bluffs, Mass., wrote: “I am not impressed by his few tears with the words he is sorry for his actions. I believe that little or no sympathy should be given in this case.”

Two women who said they were cousins of Sandi Jackson had letters in the file.

Cousin Jawana Gauthier Walker argued for probation, so Sandi could care for their two children. “They, most of all have been greatly affected by the thought they may be without their mother and father.”

Bettye Odom, who owns the Bettye O Day Spa in Hyde Park, has known Jesse Jackson Jr. since he was a kid. She is a friend of the entire Jackson family.

Asking for leniency, she wrote, “I truly believe that Jesse has already suffered extensively for his actions. He has lost credibility in the public eye and I believe he is truly despondent regarding what he has put his family through.

“I look at Jesse now and see only remorse and shame. He does not look me straight in the eye as he has done all his life. He realizes the mistakes he has made and I see the shame in his face.”

As for me? I do not have the certainty yet of the letter writers. For now, I am somewhere in between.



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