Sweet column: Rev. Jesse Jackson on John Stroger.

SHARE Sweet column: Rev. Jesse Jackson on John Stroger.
SHARE Sweet column: Rev. Jesse Jackson on John Stroger.

I caught up with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a press conference in Washington where he and other civil rights leaders talked about a drive to postpone the April 22 city elections in New Orleans.

I wanted to know Jackson’s views on the primary win of the ailing Cook County Board President John H. Stroger and some other matters..

this is the saturday column……………….

I covered a press conference in Washington on Friday featuring the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other leaders ramping up a drive to postpone the April 22 New Orleans election in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I’ll get to the New Orleans voting rights issue later in the column. I was interested in Jackson’s analysis of how ailing Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. won Tuesday’s Democratic primary over Cook County Board member Forrest Claypool.

In a dramatic wrap-up, Stroger suffered a stroke just before balloting. Jackson called Stroger a “warrior of significance.”

Stroger prevailed without the backing of three influential Democrats:

Jackson chose not to take a position. His son Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said he was neutral. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said he was neutral, but he sent a signal Monday on whom he favored when he gave an interview talking up Claypool.

“I think in the end it was a strong emotional vote for him,” Jackson said about Stroger.

“John has built many relationships across the years. He’s helped a lot of people. Stroger Hospital is named after him. He picked up some points just on that alone.

Airport support a litmus test

“Now, of course, the big challenge is we don’t know just how, what his capacity is. We don’t know that, and we’ll know soon, and that could determine the next phase.

“But I think for many people it was a way of saying ‘thank you’ to John Stroger for years of service,” Jackson said.

The main reason the Jacksons did not back Stroger had to do with Stroger’s reluctance to press for the development of a third airport near Peotone.

Support for the airport is a litmus test for Rep. Jackson that neither Stroger nor Claypool passed.

“I met with Stroger about the issue,” the Rev. Jackson said.

“Stroger’s position was that he could not get in it because it was not in Cook County, but neither is all of O’Hare — part of it is in DuPage County. And he said, `Many of my people support it, but I won’t go that far.’ So it created that tension. But having said that, Stroger represents to many people a warrior of significance that we shall honor.”

Footnote: After talking with Frank Watkins on Friday, the spokesman for Rep. Jackson, I surmise that Peotone will determine if the Jacksons play a role in the anticipated independent candidacy of state Sen. James Meeks of Chicago, an ally of the Jacksons.

Rep. Jackson wants Gov. Blagojevich to sign off on a lease agreement with the commission developing Peotone. “We are one signature away from the airport,” Watkins said. Rep. Jackson backed Blagojevich four years ago. Now, the congressman has “neither encouraged nor discouraged a Meeks candidacy for governor.”

Jacksons and voting rights

A major crusade for both Jacksons has been voting rights. Jackson father and son are engaged in a congressional battle to extend expiring provisions of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Rev. Jackson is taking a lead in organizing an April 1 march to pressure Louisiana officials to either provide more satellite locations and other systems for tens of thousands of scattered New Orleans residents to vote or push back New Orleans’ April 22 city elections.

With no hurricane to blame, not even snow, Chicago is on a pace to have a record low voter turnout –26.8 percent, with 88 percent of Tuesday’s ballots counted.

Suburban Cook County is headed toward the lowest turnout since 1998, with only 23.9 percent of registered adults bothering to vote.

Why? I asked Jackson.

“Interest? Candidates? Motivation? I cannot explain why the voter turnout was so low.”

Said Jackson, “I regret it.”

Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Copyright The Sun-Times Company

All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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