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What Jesse Jr. Wants


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What I know about the South Side of Chicago I know not from Barack Obama, but from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. In the summer of 1997, I spent two days with him there. He was in his second term representing the area. He was fond of it, but the real message I got from him was: I want to be in the Loop, literally.

The son of the civil-rights leader had attended St. Albans School in Washington and gone on to earn a law degree. He of course knew the history of the movement, and revered it. He admired his dad, whom he called "The Rev." But it was clear that Junior hungered for proximity to established money and power.

He told me about the time that friends in the business world had taken him downtown for a tour of the Federal Reserve's branch on LaSalle Street. He had been ushered into the inner sanctum and shown the real stuff: bundled stacks of Benjamins.

Jackson laughed at the memory, but clearly was impressed. That was real clout, he said. Thatwas the way the world really worked.

I thought of Junior's trip to the bank when I read U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And I thought of Junior when I noted the suggestion, made by ABC News, that Junior was "candidate no. 5" in Fitzgerald's criminal complaint. On that candidate's behalf, prosecutors claim, "emissaries" allegedly offered to raise major cash for Blagojevich. In exchange, the prosecutors say, Blago was willing to name that candidate to fill Obama's suddenly vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Jackson has denied that anyone had been authorized to make payments or promises to the governor on his behalf. "It is impossible for someone on my behalf to have a conversation that would suggest any type of quid pro quo or any payments or offers," he told ABC. (On Thursday, Jackson's lawyer acknowledged that he is in fact candidate no. 5.)

Among Obama's many gifts are luckā€”and a knack for not staying long enough in any one place to be corrupted by the local culture. Luckily for him, the world economy is falling apart, which meant that he was too busy learning about credit default swaps to worry about who he wanted to replace him in his U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.

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