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Jesse Jr. flew too close to sun

Jesse JacksJr. ~ Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Jesse Jackson Jr. ~ Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:13AM

The Greek hero Icarus, son of the master craftsman Daedalus, was imprisoned on the island of Crete. According to Greek mythology, Daedalus built a magnificent pair of wings of wood and wax, and gave them to Icarus, with a warning: Go forth and fly, my son, but stay away from the sun, or your wings will melt away.

Icarus, full of ambition and hubris, flew high into the sky, ignoring his father’s counsel. He fell to his death.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has crashed to earth. On Nov. 21, he resigned his seat in disgrace.

Jackson was propelled to power thanks to his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a civil-rights icon and head of the First Family of Black America. Seventeen years later, the high-flying son succumbed to the heat of ego and unbridled ambition.

The son’s sky-is-the-limit promise dissolved in the unbearable heat of federal investigations, infidelity and mental illness.

I mourn for what could have been.

Jackson leaves behind a 2nd Congressional District that elected him to nine full terms. Voters are left to take stock of their history. Jackson succeeded U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, who resigned in 1995 after being convicted of sexual misconduct, child pornography and obstruction of justice.

Reynolds followed Gus Savage, a longtime congressman who courted controversy and was the subject of a U.S. House Ethics Committee investigation into sexual misconduct allegations.

Each man promised to do better. Each man failed. A special election to replace Jackson comes early next year.

The district’s boundaries stretch from Chicago’s South Side to Kankakee. Its voters might wonder: Are we capable of picking a capable and honest public servant? Only they can answer that question. Meanwhile, I offer watch words for what’s ahead:

A dozen or more elected officials, politicians and personalities will line up to make promises anew. An all-out scrum.

Racial politics will be in play. The district is 69 percent black, which could allow a white candidate to prevail if a stampede of African Americans split the black vote.

The clout class wants in. At least three political allies of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are looking at the race. Others mulling a run are close to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state’s most powerful politician. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel surely wants a big hand in choosing the city’s next emissary to Washington, D.C.

In the wake of Jackson’s resignation, The Chicago Reporter unearthed some sad statistics. In 2011, the 2nd District’s poverty rate was 22 percent. The area’s 20 percent unemployment rate tops the national rate, and is higher among African Americans, at 22 percent. On education, only 21 percent of the district residents have earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28.5 percent nationwide.

A congressman can’t fix everything, and the history is not encouraging. Still, the voters in the 2nd Congressional District could elect a representative who focuses on their needs, not his or her personal priorities. What a concept.

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