Jonathan Jackson on running for Congress, his famous family: ‘It’s not a dynasty. It’s a legacy of service.’

Jonathan Jackson’s older brother, Jesse Jr., once was seen as heir apparent to the civil rights legacy of their father, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. But Jesse Jr. and his wife were convicted of looting $750,000 in campaign funds.

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Jonathan Jackson, the middle son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Jacqueline Jackson, announces his intentions to run for the U.S. House of Representatives seat representing the 1st Congressional District — being vacated by Rep. Bobby Rush — during a news conference at the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 38 headquarters on the Far South Side, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.

Jonathan Jackson, middle son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Jacqueline Jackson, at a news conference earlier this week, announcing his run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s joining a crowded Democratic primary field in the 1st Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush is retiring.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Jonathan Jackson on Thursday talked openly about the anguish and embarrassment his powerful family endured after his brother, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and Jesse’s now-ex-wife Sandi, were convicted on federal corruption charges.

Jesse Jr. was once viewed as the heir apparent to the civil rights legacy of their father, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. Instead, he and Sandi, now divorced, were convicted of looting $750,000 from campaign funds between 2005 and 2012 to bankroll their lavish lifestyle.

Three days after joining the crowded field vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Jonathan Jackson talked at length about his older brother’s stunning fall from grace and about the impact that it had on the entire Jackson family.

“I saw both of my grandmothers have strokes as a result of the pain and embarrassment that they had felt. It was something that we all felt deeply. I also know that this has happened to other people in the past,” Jonathan Jackson said.

“I love my brother. He ran into some challenges. He’s paid his debt to society. He’s a brilliant man. He was a champion for his district. He didn’t hurt his district. He hurt himself personally. And for that, he has the burden and the pain that he lives with. ... He suffered then. He suffers now from having made those choices and the consequences. I wish him a bright future. He’s got so much more to offer.”

The two eldest sons of the civil rights icon were born only 10 months apart. Their closeness leaves Jonathan wondering whether there was more he could have done to help his brother long before federal investigators lowered the boom.

“It’s not where you fell. It’s where you slip. When he first started going wrong, I wish I could have been closer to him physically in proximity and I would have observed this. But we were all so busy in our individual lives at that time raising family and children. I just wish I ... would have seen this happening,” Jackson said.

Jonathan Jackson was asked if he’s concerned his brother’s corruption will become an issue in the upcoming campaign — either with voters who’ve had enough of the Jacksons or with opponents who try to use Jesse Jr.’s conviction as a political cudgel against Jonathan.

“You know my family’s problems. We’ve dealt with them and we’re public. I wouldn’t bring up your family’s problems — and everybody has them. So I wouldn’t go down that path,” Jonathan Jackson said.

“I can’t say what others would do and how desperate they may be or how hungry or thirsty they are for this. But, I’ll maintain my dignity at all times in this race.”

Jonathan Jackson also sloughed off claims that his attempt to pick up the mantle in a storied congressional district that’s had the longest run of African-American representation in the nation is yet another example of political nepotism in a city famous for it.

“It’s nothing that was bequeathed. It’s not a dynasty. It’s a legacy of service. It’s going to the front line to make a difference,” he said.

“This isn’t one person passing on another’s seed. This isn’t patronage. My father’s not been a mayor. My father’s not been a state senator or U.S. senator. It’s none of that. This is really a break, if you will, from that path.”

In declaring his candidacy, Jonathan Jackson talked about having traveled the world with his father, seeing greatness and about being “in the room” where it happened.

During the wide-ranging interview with the Sun-Times, Jonathan Jackson fondly recalled some of those first-person experiences.

“When President Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist. We were calling him a freedom fighter then. Our position didn’t change. The nation changed,” he said.

Jonathan Jackson also recalled having seen “diplomacy in action” after raising the money that bankrolled his father’s trip to Iraq to meet with Saddam Hussein and convince the Iraqi dictator to release hostages being used as “human shields.”

Jonathan Jackson said he thinks often about the warning Saddam Hussein issued that day in the green room of his palace. He said, “It’s easier to come in here than it will be to get out” of Iraq.

“That has been a $6 trillion error — $6 trillion of poorly spent money in the wrong direction. You talk about the money the country needs now. Had my father’s leadership been heeded — had others been more eager to seek diplomacy and not war — we could have fixed infrastructure across the nation, hospitalization, education,” he said.

“We could be in a totally different place, having peace and diplomacy first, over war and fighting.”

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