Illinoisans react to Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandi Jackson sentences

August 14, 2013 4:22:58 PM PDT
Public officials, one-time supporters and public watchdogs are responding to the 2 1/2-year prison sentence imposed on ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. for misusing $750,000 in campaign money.

Reaction to the sentences has been mixed but passionate. They are the latest in a line of Illinois politicians who have fallen from grace. There is disappointment but understanding that the punishment had to fit the crime.

Those watching from the tumultuous close of the chapter on two political figures see Wednesday's sentence from varying perspectives. Political consultant Delmarie Cobb worked on Jesse Jackson Jr.'s first campaign. She is concerned about impact of this scandal on African American voters.

"We certainly have a leadership vacuum in this city right now. I think we have a leadership vacuum in this country as African Americans. When you have someone who is not dependent on the Democratic political machine for their largesse, yes, it is a setback," Cobb said.

She also said that the disappointing end to Jackson Jr.'s political story is saddening.

"[It] makes everyone sad to have someone like him with all the opportunities and with all the things he has to offer fall from grace," she said.

Former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer said he is not surprised by the sentence and says both Jackson Jr. and Sandi Jackson deserved the sentence for the misuse of $750,000.

"For an elected official to send campaign funds on these expenditures, you hate to say it's a new low for a Chicago politician because the bar is so low, but it makes you wonder what the next politician will do," Cramer said.

A former defense attorney for convicted ex-governor Rod Blagojevich said he finds the sentence out of line with the sentence his former client ultimately got -- 14 years.

"When I see someone who took out $750,000 out of a campaign fund and using it for his personal expenses... then watching someone like Blagojevich who got no money - I think it's a complete disparity in sentences here," said attorney Sam Adam Jr.

Robert Starks - who knows the Jackson family personally and is an associate professor at Northeastern Illinois University, said he is looking beyond this sentence. While he said he is concerned about the immediate impact on the Jacksons' children, he says this will impact a new generation of politicians.

"They will be a bit more cognizant of how they do and how they spend their campaign money because it does send a message to a lot of people in office and people who are thinking about going into office," said Starks.

Former federal prosecutor Ron Safer find the sentence for Jackson, Jr. to be fair and fitting.

"Had he asked these people -- campaign contributors -- 'please buy me a Rolex,' I think you would have gotten a different answer than 'please support my campaign,'" said Safer.

After Jackson's sentencing in Washington on Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn called it "a sad day" for Jackson and his family. But he added, "justice has to be served."

U.S Rep. Danny Davis says he'd hoped Jackson would get probation.

As for the sentence for Sandi Jackson, the judge dismissed her request for probation and eliminates the chance of early release.

"If you're sentenced in the federal system to a year and a day then you have to serve 85 percent of your sentence which would have been a couple months off for mrs Jackson; the judge made it quite clear that she was sentencing her to a year," said Chicago-Kent College of Law Professor Richard Kling.

David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform says other politicians should take note of the consequences to Jackson.

Cobb says the sentence was fair. She says longtime supporters feel betrayed but that they'll give Jackson a chance to make his mark again after he's served his time. She says Jackson deserves "a second chapter in life."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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