After lobbying for a presidential pardon on behalf of then-imprisoned former Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) almost three years ago, members of the Congressional Black Caucus provided scarce support last week when their former colleague said he will challenge one of their own in an effort to get his old job back.
Reynolds, whose prison sentence was commuted in early 2001 by a last-minute pardon from then-President Bill Clinton, announced last week that he will run against Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) in the party’s primary next March. Jackson has represented the South Side Chicago seat since winning a 1995 special election to replace Reynolds, who resigned after being convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) likened Reynolds’ chances of regaining his old seat to those of someone who buys a lottery ticket when the jackpot soars, and said he wasn’t willing to bet on his candidacy.
“I would think that he has about as much chance of winning in the second Congressional district as a snowball would have of surviving in the Sahara desert,” Davis said. “But you still can have hope.”
Although Davis called the situation “unfortunate,” he said he did not feel betrayed by Reynolds’ decision to run.
“I don’t even think the Jacksons feel that,” Davis said. “Many people think this is ludicrous, to be quite honest about it.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) described her former colleague as “a troubled man” in need of counseling at the time of his indictment. “All I know is what I’ve read and it seemed to me that he probably needed some therapy,” Johnson said last week. “I can’t speak for the CBC, but I am backing Jackson.”
Other caucus members agreed.
“The Congressman strongly, strongly supports Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in his re-election,” said William Marshall, spokesman for Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who submitted Reynolds’ name to Clinton for the pardon.
Among those who also lobbied for Reynolds’ pardon were the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Congressman’s father, as well as several other members of the CBC, Reynolds recalled in an interview last week.
“I appreciate what he did,” he said, referring to the elder Jackson, whose 1984 presidential campaign Reynolds worked on. “I appreciate every single member of the caucus. Their goal was to get me out so that I could go help my children.”
Reynolds resigned his seat in 1995 after he was convicted of sexual misconduct and other charges involving an affair he had with a 16-year-old campaign worker. In 1997, he was also convicted of misusing campaign funds and defrauding banks, although he has quarreled with many of the prosecutors’ claims.
He served two and a half years in prison on the sex charges and was sentenced to six and a half years on the fraud charges.
After being pardoned by Clinton in early 2001, Reynolds took an administrative job at Salem Baptist Church, located on the far South Side of Chicago. The church’s pastor, James Meeks, is an ally of the Rev. Jackson and board member of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH organization. Meeks is now a state Senator.
One Hill Democrat knowledgeable in Chicago politics questioned Reynolds’ motives and whether he was planning to run a full-fledged campaign.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.