To paraphrase an old saying, Chicago truth is often stranger than political fiction. Two weeks ago on my afternoon show, I teased Andrew Malcolm about Jesse Jackson Jr’s plea bargaining and imminent resignation from Congress, reminding him that Jackson first took office in a special election after former Rep. Mel Reynolds resigned after being charged with having sex with an underaged campaign volunteer. After pointing out that Reynolds tried running in a primary in 2004 to get his seat back from Jackson, I joked that Reynolds now had his shot at returning to Congress.
And, sure enough …
Mel Reynolds, an ex-con convicted of bank fraud and having sex with a 16-year-old girl when he was in his 40s, wants to replace the embattled Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.
Standing in front of signs that read “Redemption” Reynolds held a news conference on Wednesday saying he would run in a special election after Jackson resigned in disgrace last week in the midst of a federal investigation.
It was Reynolds who Jackson replaced 17 years ago —in a special election — after Reynolds himself resigned in disgrace after his conviction.
“It’s what you do after the mistakes,” Reynolds said, adding that his crimes were “almost 18, 20 years ago,” and shouldn’t be a life sentence. “I want to serve.”
As a man of faith, I believe in redemption. I also believe in common sense. Reynolds not only ended up with the conviction for his sexual crime, he also got convicted of campaign-finance fraud, which tacked on a few more years to his sentence, which Bill Clinton commuted just before leaving office himself. That’s not to say that Reynolds didn’t learn his lesson — only Reynolds can truly know the answer to that question — but the voters of his district aren’t required to give him his job back, either. If Reynolds wants to “serve,” there are plenty of opportunities to “serve” right in his own community that don’t involve campaign funds and positions of public trust in the political arena.
Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times isn’t too inspired by Reynolds’ version of “redemption,” either. He cites a long history of dishonesty from Reynolds that goes far beyond his convictions, and concludes:
At his press conference, Reynolds said he shouldn’t continue to be punished for his past “mistakes”— a reference to his convictions for having sex with an underage campaign worker and for financial and campaign fraud.
“You know, all of us have fallen short of our dreams in life on occasion, but it is part of the Judeo-Christian spirit to give people the opportunity to show what they can do,” he said. “The most important thing, I believe, for a person when they make mistakes is what they do after they’ve made mistakes.’’
I agree, but Mel Reynolds has had his chances — plenty of them — and hasn’t done anything to earn another shot at the taxpayers’ dime.
Reynolds isn’t claiming redemption; he’s claiming an entitlement. One might expect a man who has been redeemed to have approached the rest of his life with a little more humility.