CHICAGO — — The genesis of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s decline dates to when he chose to forgo divinity studies and enter the world of politics instead, or so says the ex-congressman's sister. Other supporters suggest it was when he opted for weight-loss surgery. Still others single out his diagnosed bipolar disorder.
The sweep of Jackson's life, from golden boy who could be president to broken politician, will be laid out for a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Wednesday as she sentences him and his wife Sandra for misusing $750,000 in campaign money on a gold-plated Rolex watch, mink capes, mounted elk heads and other personal items.
Citing how the son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson ramped up his illegal spending even as he fell under suspicion of involvement in the corruption of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, prosecutors are recommending a four-year prison term. Jackson earlier pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud his campaign.
The brazenness of the Chicago Democrat's criminal spending binge shocked even Illinois — a state with an ignominious history of corrupt pols. And so his family and friends, who sent more than 100 letters to the judge, face a challenge asking for mercy by offering sometimes-novel explanations for his bad behavior.
It's his elder sister, Santita Jackson, who suggests her brother, 48, veered off course at the point of his greatest political triumph — when he won a House seat in a landslide in 1995 and entered Congress at age 30. Junior, she says, was better suited to the life he knew in his 20s pursuing a divinity degree at a Chicago seminary, which allowed him to take frequent breaks to think and "maintain his equilibrium."
"Every day he was able to indulge in his passion of fishing — a serene and calming undertaking," she writes.