He Lives! | Bleader

Thursday, January 7, 2010

He Lives!

Posted By on 01.07.10 at 05:10 PM

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I had a Jesse Jackson Jr. sighting yesterday.

For much of the last year, ever since he was identified as “Senate Candidate 5” in the initial criminal complaint against Rod Blagojevich, Jackson has kept a pretty low profile—no op-eds railing against City Hall corruption, no public vows to finance candidates who can help topple the machine, no talk about his own potential runs for Senate, mayor, mosquito abatement district board, or anything other than the congressional seat he currently holds.

And he and his staff stopped returning my calls.

Now, as much as I’m reluctant to admit it, there’s no crime in that. In fact, it flatters me to think I’m viewed as that much of an annoyance. When I’m done writing, I’ll have to drop his office another line just to let them know I still care.

Anyway, all this is to say that it was good to see him—and I’m not being sarcastic—at a press conference announcing a lawsuit against the state, the RTA, and Metra alleging racial discrimination in area transit funding.

As I’ve argued before, Chicago needs Junior. Don’t get me wrong: I think Chicago needs many things besides Junior, and I wish there were other less enigmatic, less mercurial pols out there with the name recognition, charisma, and progressivism that he has. But there aren’t.

When he was given an opportunity to speak yesterday, he was eloquent, unflinching, and stirring in a way that few politicians or leaders of any type are capable of. "All communities need public transportation," he said. "All communities deserve equal funding. Our community is demanding it now."

After the presser I approached the congressman to ask how things have been going.

"No problems whatsoever," he replied.

That's not really what I'd asked, but fair enough. Jackson was then polite enough to wonder how I was doing. I said I was great except that I’d found him rather elusive over the last few months. I noted that I’d called his office repeatedly.

"You have, you have," he said. "I have no reason not to—"

An aide bailed him out, interjecting, "Hey, where’s your coat?" Junior said someone had taken it from him when he’d come in. Then he started walking toward the elevator.

I accompanied him. To his dismay, it took a couple of minutes for the elevator to arrive. While he waited, I said he must be pleased that no one was running against him in the February 2 Democratic primary. "Well, I always take even nonopponents seriously," he said.

That's an interesting and novel strategy, but undoubtedly a winning one.

Jackson added that he had been busy trying to get contenders for statewide office—which include two of his political proteges, treasurer candidate Robin Kelly and prospective comptroller David Miller—to commit to developing an airport in south suburban Peotone, one of Jackson’s pet projects/obsessions. He said nothing's more important to the Chicago area than creating new jobs, and he maintains the airport is the way to do it for the south suburbs.

The elevator arrived and he hurried onto it. I gathered my stuff and followed a few minutes later. I found Junior and his aide standing in the building lobby, apparently waiting for their ride to pull up on Michigan Avenue. The congressman saw that I was wearing a Bears cap and turned friendly.

"Now there’s something to talk about," he said. "I really think you should spend more time writing about football."

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