Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D)
Illinois 2nd District
Chicago is a great center of both commerce and industry, and if its white-collar offices are heavily concentrated in the Loop, its blue-collar heavy industries are most visible on the far South Side. This part of Chicago, diminished in economic importance today, is historically significant and, with the remnants of its great hulking factories around Lake Calumet and the nearby rail yards, has a certain undeniable majesty. Thomas Geoghegan wrote in his book Which Side Are You On? of the fights to win benefits for the workers of shuttered steel mills and of the decline of the labor movement in a place where it got much of its inspiration. This is where the Pullman strike of 1894 was broken by federal troops and where policemen killed 10 union supporters in the Little Steel strike of 1937. Over the years, Chicago grew around the tight ethnic neighborhoods where workers went home at shift break each afternoon or midnight. Today, those workplaces are mostly empty buildings that suburbanites speed past on the Calumet and Dan Ryan expressways. A local historic preservation group has listed the Hulett Iron Ore Unloaders, built in 1912 and resembling a giant preying mantis, as endangered structures.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Illinois includes much of Chicago’s old South Side industrial area, U.S. Cellular Field, the new home of the White Sox baseball team near the site of the old Comiskey Park, and several Cook County suburbs to the south. The district reaches north to include Jackson Park, where the Columbian Exposition of 1893 was held, and south to take in South Shore, a once heavily Jewish neighborhood and now home to middle-class blacks. The district includes all of Chicago south of 95th Street and east of Interstate 57, including the old industrial area around Lake Calumet. The Chicago portion of the 2nd is overwhelmingly black, though many African-Americans, especially young parents fleeing Chicago public schools, are moving into suburbs directly to the south—Harvey, Dolton, Markham, Hazel Crest, and Lynwood. Farther south are economically revitalized Homewood and Flossmoor, with significant Jewish populations; high-income Olympia Fields; and the still vibrant Park Forest, the post World War planned town where William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man was set. Also in the district are mixed-income Chicago Heights, the hometown of David Broder, one of the country’s premier political reporters for a half century. In the south end of the district is struggling Ford Heights, the nation’s leader in single mothers per capita, the vast majority of whom live in public housing. The 2nd District now has more people in the suburbs than in Chicago. Only 40% of the 2008 vote was cast in Chicago precincts. The district remains one of the most Democratic in the nation.
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D)
Elected: Dec. 1995, 7th full term.
Born: March 11, 1965, Greenville, SC .
Education: NC A&T, B.S. 1987, Chicago Theological Seminary, M.A. 1990, U. of IL, J.D. 1993.
Family: Married (Sandi); 2 children.
Professional Career: Civil rights activist; Pres., Keep Hope Alive PAC, 1989–90; V.P., Operation PUSH, 1991–95; Field dir., Natl. Rainbow Coalition, 1993–95.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat first elected at age 30 in 1995 and the son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who ran for president in 1984 and 1988. Jesse Jackson Jr. was born in Greenville, S.C., while his father was marching to Selma. But he spent much of his early life in Washington, D.C., and attended the prestigious St. Albans School. He went to North Carolina A&T, his father’s alma mater, earned a master’s degree at Chicago Theological Seminary and a law degree at the University of Illinois. He spent his 21st birthday in a Washington, D.C., jail for protesting apartheid at the South African embassy. Jackson worked for his father’s Rainbow Coalition and did not run for office until Democratic Rep. Mel Reynolds was driven from office for having sexual relations with a teenage campaign worker. In a 1995 special election, Jackson had serious competition from Democrat Emil Jones, then a state legislator for 23 years and later the state Senate President, who had the support of Mayor Richard M. Daley. Jones emphasized his clout and political experience. Jackson said being his father’s son was a lifetime of political experience. He talked of bringing dollars to the South Side and, quoting longtime Illinois Democratic Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, said, “The only way one grows into leadership in Congress is to get elected young enough that you become speaker of the House or chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.” Jackson won the primary 46%-37% and easily won the special election in December.
|Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D)||251,052||(89%)||($1,673,968)|
|Anthony Williams (R)||29,721||(11%)|
|Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (85%), 2004 (88%), 2002 (82%), 2000 (90%), 1998 (89%), 1996 (94%), 1995 (76%)
In the House, Jackson has combined liberal advocacy with careful attention to the interests of his constituents and to the steady advancement of his own influence. In 2001, he helped to create the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health. In recent years, he has sponsored few legislative bills, but nine constitutional amendments creating new rights, such as a right to “health care of equal high quality,” to “decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing” and to “full employment and balanced economic growth.” He plans to keep introducing his amendments “as long as I am alive and in Congress,” he says. None have passed and are unlikely to, even with Democrats in control of Congress. Topping Jackson’s list of parochial projects is a long-standing proposal for a third Chicago-area airport in Peotone, 45 miles south of the Loop and just south of the district. The fight pitted him against fellow Democrats, including Daley, whose No. 1 priority has been expansion of O’Hare Airport. Jackson’s allies have included Republicans from the northern suburbs who are worried about an increase in noise levels in neighborhoods around O’Hare.
Jackson has had a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee for nearly a decade and is well positioned to move up to a subcommittee chairmanship. Except for Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, every committee chairmen with more seniority than Jackson is at least 13 years older. After years of flirting with a race for mayor of Chicago, he seems content to remain in the House. In 2005, his increasingly sharp criticism of Mayor Richard M. Daley led to speculation that he would mount a challenge in the February 2007 Democratic primary. In September 2006, Jackson said, “It’s more likely than not” that he would challenge Daley. But after Democrats took control of the House that year, he decided to stay where he was. Jackson has been careful not to exploit his high degree of name recognition, and, as an early and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama for president, he criticized as “reckless” his father’s off-color gibes at Obama. The movement of middle-class blacks to the far suburbs continues to diminish his core constituency, but Jackson’s connection to the city’s politics is still strong. In 2007, his wife Sandi, a deputy political director of the Democratic National Committee, was elected alderman of Chicago’s 7th Ward.
After Obama’s election in 2008, Jackson was briefly caught up in the behind-the-scenes campaign for Obama’s open Senate seat that led to the downfall of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was charged with trying to profit personally and politically from his power to appoint a successor. Jackson was “Senate Candidate Five” in the transcripts of prosecutors’ wiretapped conversations, in which fundraising for Blagojevich was discussed. In comments aimed at persuading the public to “give me my name back” Jackson said: “I did not initiate or authorize anyone at any time to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf…. I thought, mistakenly, that the process was fair, aboveboard, and on the merits. I thought, mistakenly, that the governor was evaluating me and other Senate hopefuls based upon our credentials and qualifications.”
Before the scandal broke, the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Jackson as “a thoughtful, committed legislator” for the seat. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quietly opposed his selection, reportedly because he did not believe Jackson could win a statewide election.