Jesse Jackson, Jr. and the End of Black Dynasty Politics
Let’s hope that the final act, fall and last episode of (newly) former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. also means the end of Black dynasty politics. So far, though, it’s not looking all that good in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional district. Windy City’s whistling, frigid winds have not managed to blow the trash out as a band of political misfits and usual shady suspects are lining up to take his place.
It’s a shame since it’s the last thing the 2 nd District needs at the moment. As one of the most tightly held and exclusively Democratic seats in the country, the district is nearly three-quarters African American and rife with poverty. Residents were already dropping to their bedroom floors like soldiers on the Western front, dodging gang-banging bullets late at night while putting their kids to sleep. Recession, like any other American urban metropolis, never stopped in certain parts of Chicago, especially places like Ford Heights – for example – where the median household income is less than the national average. In its demographic brief, The Almanac of American Politics claims the district has the highest rate of single mothers per capita in the country. While attempting numerous public displays of affection as a way to dispel looming federal probe rumors, even Jackson went so far as to openly solicit job resumes from constituents to place in the Congressional record. He ended up getting 10,000.
Not wanting to get too much into Jackson’s personal turmoil (blind can’t lead the blind and no sense in beat downs while dude is half dead on the ground), it does stand to point out the shenanigans that took place during his brief re-elected moment. Constituents felt outright played; perhaps that’s justified as Jackson scalped more than a duffel bag of wolf tickets throughout.
First it was the disappearance, as if he was the fictitious Congressman Brody in Showtime’s Homeland. In that psychoanalytic hot soup terrorism mind job, we watch with amazement as the Brody character goes dark for days at a time – while still in Congress. Jackson seemed to play this out, leaving one to wonder what federal facility and interrogation room he spent time in. But, lo and behold it was in a clinic while immersed in bipolar disorder. Translated: what happens when the feds are on your ass for ethics and campaign finance violations or when the wrath of a scorned wife is in the form of relentless open-handed slaps on the jaw.
That’s all up for speculation and the despicable reality TV show rumor mill. But, what was just as fascinating was the resolve and downright stubborn pride of 2 nd district constituents who stood by Jackson through not just days or weeks … but, months – up until the moment he resigned mere days after getting re-elected … after not even campaigning for the seat. In terms of pure hardball politics, that was an amazing feat of campaign acrobatics.
What’s more interesting is how the district pretty much stood by and re-elected him with over 60% of the vote.
It says a lot about this majority Black district and where its head might be. Not unlike other majority Black districts and urban political jurisdictions where many voters seem to have a high amount of tolerance for dynasty poli-tricks. In the case of Jackson, his family presumes a Jackson will reign supreme atop the 2 nd District political machine till apocalypse. Wife Sandi Jackson, an always D.C.-bound city Alderwoman who is rarely seen in her ward, is mulling a bid (which the husband should oblige). Brother Jonathan Jackson, a Chicago State University professor, is also mulling a bid. Some whispers include Deals are already being cut – see that warehouse second season scene fromBoss in which a moderate Republican upstart must pay political street “shadow bosses” to get out the vote.
Much of that resolve was not so much Jackson as it was the threat of his Democratic primary rival and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson potentially taking the seat. The Chicago Black political establishment frets loudly about the prospect of multiple Black challengers canceling each other out and leaving the spoils to Halverson, who is White. Halvorson, in very typical White-politician-plays-dumb fashion counters that they should all get past “this racial stuff.”
But, it’s a legitimate concern given, ohhh … we don’t know anything … but, that long and very raw history of disenfranchisement Black people have had to experience for about 400 years. Still, the problem here is that the focus seems to stay on an outdated Black vs. White political power model rather than a conversation on whether or not there are some truly qualified Black candidates in District 2 who can take Jackson’s place.
Instead, we’re seeing this beginning to play out the same way it always does: the machine is stepping in, perhaps with some input from the Jackson family since their names keep popping up as contenders. That’s very problematic – and indicative of many Black political strongholds over the years in which familial name brands seem to hold sway over common sense. Not so long ago in Detroit, it was Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, obviously living off the Congressional mother’s political coattails. While everything seems cool in Indianapolis, Andre Carson stepped in as heir apparent to take over the late Aunt Julia Carson’s seat upon her untimely passing. There’s Kendrick Meek in Florida, who simply walked right into his mother Carrie Meek’s seat. And, the Harold Fords – Sr. and Jr. – in Memphis who failed to any memo of their political sunset until Jr. lost an ambitious Senate bid. For a time, we had John and Milton Street in Philly; there are also the Goodes, from daddy the first Black Mayor of Philly to son who is a city councilman. The list is long with many, like Jackson, being groomed for seats kept warm by current elected officials or parents with iconic political clout in their respective jurisdictions.
It would take a book to examine this a bit more, but much of the high profile modern Black political class is not your homespun community activist with grass root street cred. It’s a trend of political offspring, of primarily Black Democratic parents who are thinking legacy, some recently catapulted into the upper middle-class by political fortunes. Not certain if it’s intended, but it definitely shows. It’s as if the message is if you’re Black and you want to run for office, you have to be of a certain stock – and, let’s not forget that one must also be wearing a certain Greek letter or be a member of someone’s Pan-Hellenic council.
What happened to the authentic candidates? We talk about how much we hate the Tea Party, but you have to give it to them: they dig authentics. We can question the credentials of those candidates all day, but maybe some Black Democratic primaries could use a heavy dose of that. A process where candidates are picked on some substance and not the shiny rims of an illustrious family name or connections to a colorful step-showy organization.
Interestingly enough, and speaking of Chicago, the current President Obama appears to have defied this trend. In fact, he pretty much strapped dynamite to it. But, on a more local level, there’s quite a bit of high tolerance in places like District 2 for some of the same “old boy” and “country club” style, Tammany Hall machine politicking that one thought we spent quite a few centuries fighting against. Sadly, a former convicted pedophile and former member of Congress, Mel Reynolds, thinks so little of the intelligence of folks in this urban southeast Chicago suburb that he’s feeling the bug.
That says a lot about voters there – perhaps Reynolds thinking that “hey – they voted for Jackson and he wasn’t even showing up for work. This should be easy.” It’s unfortunate, but it’s politics. And, ultimately, it’s a question of whether or not voters are holding these folks up to a higher standard. Judging from the nonsense in Illinois’ 2 nd Congressional District, doesn’t appear so. Thus, quality candidates need not apply.