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Jacksons down now, but don’t count out a comeback

Jesse JacksJr.

Jesse Jackson Jr.

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Updated: September 17, 2013 7:58AM



WASHINGTON — For disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi, prison may just be a punctuation mark — not a period — on their public lives and careers.

No less than the judge who sentenced the couple to prison on Wednesday predicted that Jesse Jr. can look forward to a second act.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said before sentencing that this is “not the final judgment of who you are as a man. There will be another chapter.”

“He will serve his sentence, he will come back out and we believe and we are optimistic, will do great things,” Jesse Jr. defense attorney Reid Weingarten said after court.

For the Rev. Jesse Jackson, I think little will change publicly for the civil rights leader who oversees the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. His agenda is so varied — his brand so well-known, his universe so large — that his son’s fall from grace alone will not make his views less relevant or less sought after.

“Fair-minded people can separate the two,” said Frank Watkins, who has worked for both the father and the son. “They are two separate individuals, they have two separate careers.”

The main emotion that the Jackson family members at the courthouse shared with me on Wednesday was relief that this horrible saga was coming to an end. Relief that Jesse Jr., suffering from bipolar disorder and depression, is well, to be blunt, still around.

“This time last year I really thought we may have lost him,” Rev. Jackson said at least twice on Wednesday.

Jesse Jr., who is 48, and Sandi, at 49, are young enough that their prison time — a year for her and 30 months for him (in reality that could be less) — can be toughed out.

There are a number of second acts when it comes to fallen political figures. Former President Bill Clinton was impeached and now he’s a popular global leader. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer plowed through a prostitution scandal and is now running for New York City comptroller. Anthony Weiner had almost gotten ahead of his sexting scandal in his run for mayor of New York — except more texts surfaced.

In Chicago, we have a tradition of welcoming former felons back after they did their time. Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, former City Clerk Jim Laski and former Ald. Cliff Kelley became local media figures.

The Jacksons are educated and telegenic, each with law degrees. Their options could include non-profit and non-governmental organizations — maybe reality TV.

Besides the judge, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., who led the investigation against the Jacksons’ — and who has blistered them time and again for squandering the advantages they had — told me in an interview, after “you have served your time, you need to make sure that people are given a second chance.”

That goes for running again for public office — though I don’t see that for the couple. “That’s up for the voters to decide. I also think, obviously, your previous record is fair game for the voters to explore,” Machen said.

Jesse Jr., I was reminded on Wednesday, has a divinity degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary, though he never was ordained. That degree could open other career doors as he — and his family — mull his comeback. Perhaps foreshadowing this, Jesse Jr. said in brief remarks as he was leaving the courthouse, “I still believe in the resurrection.”

Maybe his.

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