Jr.: Who Thwarted the Ambitions of Jesse Jackson’s Son?


Jason Zengerle in NY Magazine:

Four years ago, in the fading light of a chilly December afternoon, Jesse Louis Jackson Jr. arrived at a Chicago office building for the most important meeting of his political life. As the eldest son of the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Jesse Jr. was no stranger to high-powered summitry. When Jackson was an infant, Martin Luther King Jr. paid visits to his family’s tiny apartment; as a teenager, he accompanied his father to meet with presidents in the Oval Office; by the time he was a young man, and a key adviser to “Reverend” (as he often addressed his father), he was traveling the globe for encounters with Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela. Now, as the representative for Illinois’s Second Congressional District, Jackson was a political player in his own right—someone whose time was in demand by any number of powerful people, including Barack Obama, who’d tapped Jackson as a co-chair for both his 2004 Senate bid and his just-concluded presidential campaign.

The man with whom Jackson was meeting that afternoon was not a world-historical figure. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was under federal investigation for corruption, and a recent poll had put his approval rating at 13 percent. And yet, as far as Jackson was concerned, Blagojevich was a political titan. It was his job to appoint the person who would fill Obama’s Senate seat—an appointment Jackson desperately coveted. Although he was just 43 years old, he had already spent thirteen years in Congress and was itching to move on to bigger things. “I grew up wanting to be just like Dad,” Jackson once said. “Dad wanted to be president.” He’d flirted with runs for U.S. senator and Chicago mayor as possible stepping-stones and was determined not to lose this opportunity. “He’d watched all these people whom he had helped pass him by, especially Barack,” Delmarie Cobb, a Chicago political consultant and a former Jackson adviser, says. “And he was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got to do something!’”