Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jesse Jackson, Jr. his latest woes

Headlines are filled with allegations of ethics violations and potential wrongdoing by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. in connection with the vacated U.S. Senate Seat formerly held by President Barack Obama. The congressional ethics probe was placed on the back burner upon request from federal prosecutors who are investigating former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

By all accounts, Jackson appears to be in some hot water. Perhaps that would explain his uncharacteristic silence of late.

Coincidentally, Jackson and Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat from Illinois, are named two of the 15 most corrupt congressmen in Washington. Coincidentally, Illinois has just escaped from the scrutiny of a similar allegation. Another Illinois Congressman, Jerry Weller, who decided not to run for re-election in 2008 was also labeled one the most corrupt congressman.

But why should Illinois' congressional delegation be the only offices mentioned. Illinois governors are not immune to prosecution, accusation, or going to the slammer. Take Blagojevich, who was impeached as governor and now awaits a 2010 trial in federal court for allegations of wrongoing. Then there is his predecessor, George Ryan whose home address is a federal penetentiary.

Ryan follows in a long line of corrupt governors. In the last 35 years, two other Illinois governors have served time -- Otto Kerner and Dan Walker.

So, is it any wonder that Jackson has been silent of late?

A story published last December addresses this very topic. Perhaps it is time to revisit it here.
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Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Is he a hero or is he scrambling to save his political life?
originally published in Dec. 2008 at

Last December news reports indicated that Jesse Jackson, Jr. had long been cooperating with federal prosecutors’ investigation of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s alleged “pay-to-play” schemes.

Jackson was identified as ‘Senate Candidate 5’ soon after the criminal complaint in accordance with Blagojevich’s arrest was released last week. The complaint alleged that ‘Senate Candidate 5’ was implicated in Blagojevich’s alleged plot to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Jackson denies allegations

But Jackson has vehemently denied he was involved in trying to buy the position, despite his immodest efforts to win the appointment.

Jackson’s aides intimate that Jackson is not only innocent of trying to trade campaign cash for the senate seat, but that he has long been an informant to federal prosecutors about Blagojevich’s behavior. Jackson has claimed that Blagojevich refused to appoint Jackson’s wife Sandi as Illinois State Lottery Director because Jackson would not donate $25,000 to the governor’s campaign fund.

The reports paint Jackson as almost heroic.

Questions remain

While the facts of this situation will become clearer with time, there are things already known about the tenuous relationship between Jackson and Blagojevich. Much of it has to do with Jackson’s obsession over building an airport near Peotone. Jackson has tried to coerce Blagojevich into supporting Jackson’s plan which includes turning over state-owned land to Jackson’s self-prescribed airport authority.

Jackson, Blagojevich and the Peotone Airport

Blagojevich never gave Jackson what he wanted. The problem began days after Blagojevich was elected in 2002. That was a very active time in eastern Will County.

Blagojevich reportedly considered calling a halt to land banking near Peotone because of the state’s budget crisis. Blagojevich inherited the questionabe undertaking from his predecessor, ex-Gov. George Ryan and Ryan’s transportation Secretary Kirk Brown.

A little airport history

During Blagojevich’s first year in office, the U.S. Congress was set to approve the O’Hare Modernization Plan. Jackson was furious when language was removed from legislation that would have provided an iron-clad guarantee that if O’Hare is expanded, Peotone would also be built.

When legislation was signed with a cursory mention of Peotone, Jackson went into a tirade claiming, “If O’Hare gets expanded, there is no need for Peotone.” But that didn’t slow his efforts to push the project.

About the same time, the FAA approved a Tier 1 Draft Environmental Airport study for the Peotone project. Jackson wanted approval on a fast track. To date, no progress has been made on the project.

In 2003, Jackson was deeply involved with DuPage County officials – O’Hare expansion opponents -- who have bankrolled the effort to build a new airport at Peotone. The Suburban O’Hare Commission as they were known believed a new airport at Peotone was preferable to an expanded O’Hare. It was this organization that had bankrolled Jackson's efforts and lined up funding. (Incidentally, due to the last election cycle SOC boss Bensenville Village President John Geils was voted out of office.)

Jackson misrepresents Peotone location

Jackson has long ignored the distance between the south suburbs and the proposed airport. Peotone is listed alphabetically on Jackson’s website between Park Forest and Phoenix, which are in his district. After numerous complaints, a disclaimer identifying Peotone as located in Will County was added, though it does nothing to clarify that Peotone is located outside Jackson’s second congressional district.

Jackson also ignored the distance between the south suburbs and his pet project when he deceived his colleagues about the Peotone project’s location. In the summer of 2007 he stood on the floor of the House of Representatives claiming, “Peotone abuts Ford Heights.”

Jackson’s remarks were part of his sales pitch to get a $231,000 earmark attached to a spending bill for his airport authority.

Latest predictions on the 40-year old project fail again

At that time, Jackson predicted the airport would be built and operational by 2008 with five gates and one runway. He expected the State of Illinois to provide land it owned to his airport authority. The state owned roughly a third of what would have been needed to build an airport.

In 2005, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a 37-page unfavorable opinion about Jackson’s airport authority.

Madigan said the state transportation department did not have the authority to convey state-owned land, for less than market value to Jackson’s airport commission.

Madigan also said the deal brokered by Jackson between his Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) and airport developers to design, build, and operate the airport was not legal under Illinois law as the authority was currently structured.

She also issued the opinion that for Jackson’s authority to develop an airport, it has to be recommended by the Governor in the airport’s Master Plan.

When ex-Congressman Jerry Weller added an amendment to the defense bill stating that a Peotone airport should be controlled locally, Jackson was furious. He called the bill a “Peotone killer,” and took the opportunity to lash out at all his critics, including Blagojevich.

Jackson used the very communities he purported to help

In 2006, Jackson was furious with Blagojevich. He wanted ALNAC members, some of those poor south suburban communities that he claimed would benefit by an airport, to cough up $300,000 to mount a media blitz and to pressure Blagojevich into turning over eastern Will County land to Jackson’s airport authority.

More than $200,000 was ultimately raised by Jackson’s advocates, including $25,000 from the City of Harvey, a city whose economic woes remain at the forefront of the media. Jackson’s efforts came under fire from several who questioned the use of municipal funds for a public relations blitz. Many felt it was wrong to use tax dollars for a project touted as a no-taxpayer supported airport. Jackson’s plea for phone calls to the governors’ office resulted in only a small number of them.

When Jackson coerced local governments into donating funds to his campaign to lobby Gov. Blagojevich to turn over state-owned land to his airport authority, Paul Lohmann, the mayor of a town adjacent to the proposed airport took Jackson to task that summer. In a letter to Jackson, Lohmann asked if that money would be better spent as a donation to Robbins or Harvey, two of the poor communities in Jackson’s district.

Jackson has claimed a new airport at Peotone would be an economic benefit to Robbins, Harvey, and the poorest of the south suburban communities – Ford Heights. There has, however, been no evidence that a runway 20 miles away from those communities would have any effect on the economies of those towns.

Blagojevich remained on the fence

Blagojevich stayed clear of the battle for control of the proposed airport by ALNAC or Will County. He said they would have to work it out or risk losing the development.

Jackson ally, State Sen. James Meeks, considered running for governor in 2006. Jackson made it known that if he didn’t get what he wanted from Blagojevich, he would rally support for Meeks in the black community, even though it was unlikely Meeks would win. Jackson’s support could, however, have taken enough votes from Blagojevich to put Republican Judy Baar Topinka into the governor’s mansion.

That was the tactic Jackson used successfully in the 1998 gubernatorial election against fellow Democrat Glenn Poshard. Poshard openly opposed the Peotone airport. Jackson was livid. He used his influence in the black community to support George Ryan for governor, a feat for which he still claims credit.

Jackson and Halvorson at odds

Last summer, Jackson accused State Senate Majority Leader and Congressman-elect Debbie Halvorson of designing an airport authority bill with elements of a “pay to play” scheme hatched by Antoin “Tony” Rezko, Blagojevich’s convicted former fundraising pal. Halvorson sponsored and pushed the bill – SB2063 – through the Illinois Senate in the spring.

Jackson’s accusation took the form of a letter to the editor, first appearing in the Village of Park Forest online newsletter. It was written by Jackson aide Rick Bryant who is also ALNAC chairman. Bryant wrote that Halvorson gave into Rezko on a plan that two years earlier Jackson flatly rejected. Halvorson countered by saying she has never met with Rezko, and she has never even met him.

Bryant admitted that Rezko stood in for Blagojevich in the Jackson meeting.

Perhaps only time will tell if Jackson is a hero responsible for helping to bring a corrupt governor to justice, or if he is a political scoundrel deserving of a similar reward as other pay-to-play politicians.