With another son of Rev. Jesse Jackson likely headed to Congress, a storied and complicated political dynasty adds a new chapter

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Jonathan Jackson is poised to head to Congress, the latest chapter in his family’s long, sometimes rocky political history in Chicago.

Emerging from a field of 17 Democrats in Tuesday’s primary, Jackson will be the prohibitive favorite to win the historic 1st District seat in the fall general election and keep it for years beyond that. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush is retiring after 30 years in office.

Though fewer than one-third of those who voted Tuesday in the primary picked him, Jackson ended up with a sizable lead over second-place finisher Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell, 28% to 19% with about 95% of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results.

Jonathan Jackson, candidate for the 1st Congressional District, talks with a supporter during the Northwest Side Progressives Rally and March at Humboldt Park on June 18, 2022, in Chicago. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

To get here in his first run for public office, Jackson leaned heavily on a family name that conjures familiarity and political power for local voters in a way eclipsed perhaps only by the name Daley.

Jackson’s father, civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson, provided a model for public service that his 56-year-old frequently talked during the campaign about trying to emulate.

“I’m very proud of my father’s work, his history, his legacy, and I look forward to continuing lending our voice, assuring our voice in the public arena,” he said during an April interview.

And the elder Jackson’s national political profile after two presidential runs in the 1980s, and his Operation PUSH organization, helped Jonathan Jackson build relationships with officials from around the country. He argued that made him better prepared than his opponents to accomplish things in a bitterly partisan U.S. House where first-term members often find it hard to push their agendas.

“I’ve served as a deputy on the Democratic Governor’s Association. I’ve been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention,” Jonathan Jackson said in the interview. “I’ve led voter registration drives in Texas and Alabama and Georgia and the Carolinas. So I’d say I would not be a regular freshman Congressperson.”

Jackson is less talkative on the legacy of his brother, Jesse Jackson Jr., who served in the U.S. House from the nearby Illinois 2nd Congressional District from 1995 to 2012.

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Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned while he was under investigation for misusing campaign funds, later pleaded guilty to wire and mail fraud, and was released from prison in 2015. His now-ex-wife, Sandi Jackson, was Chicago’s 7th Ward alderman from 2007 until 2013. She pleaded guilty to and also served time for filing a false tax return in connection to Jackson Jr.’s political funds.

Asked before the primary whether he was hearing from voters that the Jackson legacy is a double-edged sword in light of his brother’s transgressions, Jonathan Jackson simply replied “No.”

Jonathan Jackson, left, with his father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, as speaks during a rally and march at Federal Plaza to protest the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe V. Wade on June 24, 2022, in Chicago. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune)

The depth of Jackson family political power was on display at Jonathan Jackson’s primary election victory party at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

In front of supporters and media members, Jackson thanked his mother, Jacqueline, and father, who were on hand. ”No matter how high I go, I’ll always be looking up to you,” he told his father, seated in a wheelchair onstage with other Jackson family members.

Jackson also thanked one of his godfathers, the slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who Jackson said prayed over him as an infant. The second, he said, was former state senate president Emil Jones, formerly one of the most powerful legislators on the South Side.

Jackson owns a construction contracting company that he said does excavations and other site work.

Jonathan Jackson has had two issues with tax collections, records show, one with the IRS for more than $52,000 and one with the state of Illinois. Both liens have since been lifted, records show, after Jackson said he paid what was owed.

Jackson will have a strong edge against any Republican candidate in November in the heavily blue seat that includes parts of Chicago’s South Side and stretches into Will and Kankakee counties. The GOP primary race remained extremely tight Wednesday, with Eric Carlson holding a lead of less than 500 votes over Jeffery Regnier.

Carlson, 54, of Lemont, was convicted in 1995 of sexual assault and spent about six years in prison, records show.

In other Chicago-based competitive Congressional races, veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Danny Davis fended off a serious challenge from activist Kina Collins to nab another nomination in the 7th District. And in the 3rd District, where no incumbent ran, progressive State Rep. Delia Ramirez bested Chicago Ald. Gilbert Villegas in the Democratic primary. She’ll face Justin Burau in November; no one ran in the GOP primary in Davis’ district.

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June 29, 2022 at 04:45PM

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