Clarence Page - When the news came out that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was under federal investigation, I found myself hoping in an odd Chicago-style sort of way that he was indeed guilty. I would hate to see the system punish an innocent man.
And, guilty or not, he already is being punished in the court of public opinion without being formally accused of anything.
His latest headache came Tuesday when the Chicago Sun-Times dropped a bombshell: Indian-American fund-raiser Raghuveer Nayak of suburban Oak Brook, Ill., had told federal authorities that Jackson personally directed him to offer then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich millions in campaign cash in return for President Barack Obama's former Illinois Senate seat, the newspaper said.
Jackson has denied similar allegations since they first surfaced in a federal criminal complaint against Blagojevich in late 2008.
Jackson said little more until a WLS-AM radio interview on Oct. 17 in which he acknowledged a meeting with Nayak on Oct. 28, 2008. But part of the conversation was in a foreign language, he said, and "I did not participate in any of that part of the conversation, nor do I even remember hearing it."
Jackson, now considering a run to replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who recently announced he will not run again, still appeared to have his political viability intact. After all, this is Illinois, where getting things done politically is not unlike dealing with Afghanistan's tribal warlords. You have to choose your allies carefully, and heaven help you if you have to be held responsible for everything they say they are doing in your name -- especially if they are speaking a language you don't speak so good.
But the newspaper report also dropped another bombshell: Nayak told authorities he paid for two airline trips at Jackson's request for a "social acquaintance" identified as Giovana Huidobro, a blonde hostess at a Washington, D.C., cigar bar and restaurant.
As if comparisons to Blagojevich weren't bad enough, Jackson now was being compared to Tiger Woods, too.
Suddenly attempts by media folks, including me, to reach Jackson were politely rebuffed. "The reference to a social acquaintance is a private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago," he said in a statement. "I ask that you respect our privacy." Very well. But don't expect the same respect from the House ethics committee investigators. The alleged flights could be a violation of House rules.
So, with all that in mind, I hope the young Jackson is guilty of something. Otherwise tons of public indignation are going to waste, along with pieces of his once-promising political reputation.
Jackson is damaged more severely by something he has tried for years to escape: unfavorable comparisons to his father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.
But don't count the congressman out yet. A mayoral run has become a mission improbable for him, but not impossible. First he needs to clear the air of the many questions that still hang over him, including his own reasons for running. Voters are understandably suspicious these days of candidates who seem too eager to win the job.