“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” the source said, citing all of the former Congressman’s ties to the Jacksons. “I just have a hard time believing that Mel Reynolds would actually run against Jackson in a real race.”
But in announcing his candidacy, Reynolds accused Jackson of being “invisible” in his district. He also touted polling numbers that he said showed people in the district feel he was treated unfairly.
“I want to run to get my old job back because I think I was doing an outstanding job for the district,” Reynolds said.
He also argued that his status as a convicted felon, whose name appears on the state’s sex offender registry, would not hinder his campaign.
“That may sound really horrible in your world, but I live in a world where it doesn’t sound that horrible to have an African American convicted felon,” he said. “There’s racism in our justice system and that racism doesn’t just apply when it comes to death penalty cases.”
Borrowing a phrase from the late Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), Reynolds vowed to make a competitive run against the 38-year-old Congressman, who he acknowledged may appear “unbeatable and invincible” when viewed from Washington, D.C..
“All politics is local,” he said. “You will never see a more local race than this one.”
Reynolds has opened a campaign office and said he has a campaign staff in place.
Jackson’s office released a statement in response to Reynolds’ announcement last week, although it did not refer to him by name.
“Today a candidate announced that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination in the Second Congressional District during the March 16, 2004 primary,” Jackson said. “Others may announce in the future. I take all opponents seriously, but I will run on my record of accomplishment, of which I am very proud.”
Jackson faced two opponents in the Democratic primary last year and received 85 percent of the vote.
Reynolds was elected in 1992, beating incumbent Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.) in his third attempt to win the 2nd district Democratic primary. At the time he was elected, Reynolds was hailed nationally because Savage’s career had been filled with charges of absenteeism, sexual harassment and bigotry against whites and Jews specifically.
In contrast, Reynolds had a compelling life story and résumé. He was born in Mississippi and rose from rat-infested surroundings on Chicago’s South Side to become a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar.
The 53-year-old former lawmaker is currently executive director of the New Hope Community Development Commission, a social service organization that works within the South Side suburbs. The commission is part of St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church, headed by Bishop Willie Jordan, who is serving as chairman of Reynolds’ campaign.
“The bottom line is my past is my past,” Reynolds said. “I don’t wear mistakes that I have made as a badge of shame, just as I don’t wear all of my accomplishments as a badge of confidence.”
He added: “[The Rev.] Jesse Jackson has said 100 times people make mistakes. ... I say amen to that.”
Davis said he believes Reynolds has been influenced by Jackson’s teachings.