Endorsement by Photoshop | Essay | Chicago Reader

Endorsement by Photoshop 

Does that picture of Jesse Jackson Jr. look familiar?

Driving through the south side one day last week, Seventh Ward alderman Darcel Beavers realized that there was something oddly familiar about the campaign billboards lining the streets. They showed her opponent, Sandi Jackson standing with her husband, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. "I'm thinking, 'I've seen that picture of the congressman before,'" Beavers says.

Then it struck her. The image of Congressman Jackson was identical to the one that adorned campaign posters last year during the primary and general elections, when he posed with several candidates he'd endorsed: circuit court judge Joy Cunningham, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District candidates Frank Avila Jr. and Debra Shore, and state treasurer Alex Giannoulias. In each Jackson wears the same dark business suit, the same blue tie, and the same frozen half smile. As it happens, it is the same photo, one that's been repurposed for multiple candidates, including his wife.

"It's all part of our marketing strategy," explains Ken Edmonds, Jackson's chief of staff, who confirms that Sandi Jackson's image was pasted into an old one of her husband. According to Edmonds, the congressman requires that any candidate he endorses submit to a photo shoot in the same pose and with the same dress code (dark suits, red ties for men).

Avila, whose bid for the Water Reclamation District was unsuccessful, says the Jackson campaign went one step further in his case, requiring as a condition of the endorsement that he commission a poll from the congressman's D.C. pollster. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to take a poll for water rec," says Avila. "It's not a very well-known office. A poll's not really going to do the water rec candidate much good."

But Avila went along with it. Among other things the poll asked voters whether an endorsement from Jackson and his ally, state senator James Meeks, would "make you much more likely, more likely, less likely, or much less likely to vote for Frank Avila Jr." It also asked participants if they held favorable or unfavorable opinions of Mayor Daley, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and Jackson.

It was obvious to Avila that the poll was as much for Jackson's benefit as for his. At the time both Jackson and Gutierrez were considering challenging Mayor Daley. The poll wound up confirming what Avila and anyone remotely familiar with local politics would have guessed: the mayor was regarded favorably or very favorably by 78 percent of the people polled; Jackson was ranked favorably by 65 percent of the people polled, Gutierrez by 52 percent. Neither, in short, had much of a shot against Daley, and neither wound up running.

Avila recalls the photo shoot: "I went to his photographer's studio. Jackson wasn't there," he says. "They took my picture standing alone. Later on they superimposed a cutout picture of Jackson peering over my right shoulder. . . . I'm no fan of Mayor Daley, but I have hundreds of photos with Daley. You go to an event, Daley's there, you take your picture standing next to the mayor and that's it. Jackson is on some kind of D.C. ego trip--he acts like he's a rock star."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, says Edmonds. "The picture is the congressman standing behind the right shoulder of the right candidate standing for the right thing. That's the winning formula, the winning strategy."

The shot with Jackson's wife isn't just in the Seventh Ward, where she's running--it's also in the Sixth, the Eighth, and the Ninth. On the west side Jackson's visage is pictured alongside Second Ward aldermanic challenger Kenny Johnson, a former aide.

"I'm looking at that billboard right now," says Wallace Davis Jr., another challenger in the tight Second Ward race against Madeline Haithcock. "Jackson's got that blue tie and that dark suit and Kenny Johnson's got the red tie. Makes you wonder who's running for alderman, Jackson or Johnson? I tell everybody that when I get elected you won't have to run down to Operation Push for no building permit."

Beavers, who was appointed alderman in December after her father, former alderman William Beavers, was elected to the Cook County Board, says she has to give the congressman credit: "We looked into getting billboards, but every available billboard was taken by Jackson." Still, she predicts the posters will work against her opponent.

"You don't see me putting pictures of my father or Mayor Daley up all over the place--I'm standing on my own record," says Beavers. "No one would know who Sandi was if he wasn't with her. She has to remind you--'I'm the congressman's wife.'"

For more on Chicago politics, see our blog Clout City at chicagoreader.com.

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