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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

A Light Sentence for Jesse Jackson Jr.? This Profile Could Help

A Washington Post profile of the ex-Congressman from last year paints a portrait of a man in disarray—including naked martial arts at a Turkish bath.

Jesse Jackson Jr

 

A Washington Post profile of Jesse Jackson Jr. published last October—a few weeks before Jackson won reelection and many months before the list of outlandishly extravagant items the disgraced congressman bought with contributions from his campaign fund went public—seems a tailor-made tool for his defense.

When Jackson’s defense attorney, Reid Weingartner, stands before Judge Robert Wilkins late next June he might consider reading excerpts from Manuel Roig-Franzia’s portrait of a man in obvious disarray. 

—“Jackson sometimes boasted that he was a reincarnated Greek chariot driver,” according to Frank Coconate, whom the Post reporter describes as “a political operative who helped Jackson test the possibility of a [Chicago] mayoral run several years ago before they had a falling out.” “I really thought he had a problem with reality,” Coconate says. “He’d get in his own little world. He’d come out with outlandish things.”

—At the Turkish bath that Jackson frequented, Roig-Franzia describes him as “pranc[ing] naked, demonstrating martial arts moves, while the others stayed wrapped in towels.” Roig-Franzia names as his source Frank Avila Jr., “a former supporter who is a Democratic operative.”

—In Washington, Roig-Franzia writes, Jackson never became “a player.”  Colleagues saw him as “…erratic. They’d see him late in the evening, walking the hall in martial arts gear, but miss him at meetings. On karaoke night at the Democratic Club, he could wow friends with his deft dance moves, but at other times he would retreat from social contact, according to interviews with several top Democratic aides.”

One big caveat: Roig-Franzia’s sources tend to be unnamed and a couple have fallen out with Jackson, and do not include Jackson “allies” or members of Jackson’s family who declined to be interviewed.

Related: Steve Rhodes on “Jesse Jackon Jr.’s Dark Days,” from 2012, and “What Does Junior Want?” from 2005; Dale Eastman on “The Rise of Jesse Jackson Jr. and the First Family of Black America” from 1996.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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