A year later, Jackson directed his political energies into his wife's campaign for 7th Ward alderman. Sandi Jackson defeated the daughter of Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, who had been the ward's alderman for more than two decades.
By 2008, though, Jackson's reputation had lost some of its luster. He had become known for being a talker instead of a doer. In Illinois, he constantly pushed a third regional airport in Peotone, an idea that never got off the ground. In Washington he got little accomplished other than making sure TV cameras caught him shaking hands with the president on national broadcasts of the annual State of the Union address.
Barack Obama was elected president and vacated his U.S. Senate seat. Jackson heavily lobbied then-Gov. Blagojevich to appoint him to the post, but Jackson got caught up in the criminal case when federal prosecutors charged Blagojevich with trying to sell the seat. Allegations surfaced that Jackson's supporters offered to raise as much as $6 million for Blagojevich in return for the governor appointing him to the Senate seat.
Though Jackson was never charged in that case, scandal continued to follow him as a House ethics panel investigated his efforts to obtain the Senate post.
Last March, Jackson won his primary bid for re-election but months later disappeared from the public eye, his whereabouts unknown until his office announced that the congressman had taken a medical leave of absence from Congress two weeks earlier. It was a leave from which he never returned.
At first his aides said he was being treated for exhaustion, but eventually it was disclosed that Jackson had been treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he was diagnosed with bipolar depression.
Jackson still won re-election in November against a little-known Republican challenger in the heavily Democratic district. He vowed to return to office.
"Once the doctors approve my return to work, I will continue to be the progressive fighter you have known for years," Jackson said that night in a statement. "My family and I are grateful for your many heartfelt prayers and kind thoughts. I continue to feel better every day and look forward to serving you."
But just weeks later, Jackson resigned as the House ethics panel probe ultimately was overtaken by the federal criminal investigation that resulted in Friday's charges. During the investigation, authorities also began to look at Sandi Jackson, who resigned as alderman last month.
The congressman's campaign fund paid Sandi Jackson's political consulting firm, J. Donatella & Associates, at least $452,500 since 2002, federal campaign reports show. The financial arrangement is not mentioned in court documents.
"One thing that raised my eyebrows a long time ago was the fact that she was getting paid a significant sum of money from her husband's campaign fund to do so-called consulting work," said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th. "Most of us call that having a supportive spouse. We don't pay them money out of our campaign funds to do it."
But Moore said he doesn't believe the Jacksons got into politics with the intent of living grandly.
"I think you can enter public service with the altruistic desire to make a difference and to help people and then somewhere along the way you lose your bearings," he said. "I think when you choose public service as a profession, you have to accept the fact that you can't live the same kind of lavish lifestyle as some of your friends and your supporters. Some folks are able to handle that better than others."
On Friday, as the charges were being filed in court, the Jacksons issued separate statements.
Both apologized to their family, friends and supporters, though neither asked for forgiveness from the former constituents who voted the pair into office.
Jackson Jr. did say, however, that he hopes to be known for more than his mistakes.
"And while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right," he said.
Tribune reporters Katherine Skiba, Hal Dardick, Rick Pearson, David Heinzmann and Kim Geiger contributed.
Charges against Jackson belie his pledge to service
Former congressman, wife fall from grace as political power couple
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