Jesse Jackson Jr.’s guilty plea for using $750,000 in campaign money for lavish living expenses was a stark conclusion to a political career once seen as limitless. When Jackson was first elected to Congress in 1995, at the age of 30, he thanked his parents for giving him “a wonderful name.” That name is now tarnished.
For many years, Jesse Jr. appeared to be living up to the legacy established by his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and 1984 and 1988 presidential candidate. Jesse Jr. fought for increases in food stamps and helped bring racial disparities in health care into national focus. He deftly juggled the interests of an urban-suburban Chicagoland district that was 65 percent black and 35 percent white. Esquire magazine endorsed him in 2006 as “an impressive member of Congress, keenly attuned to the needs of middle-class Americans, whatever the color of their skin.”