In His Father's Footsteps

Jackson Jr. Is Now An Illinois Congressman

When Americans elect a new president in November, the next occupant of the White House, no matter who he is, will be the son of a famous politician - the child of an ex-president in one case or a powerful senator in the other.

Jesse Jackson Jr., one generation behind George W. Bush and Albert Gore, is yet another son with a famous name and political pedigree. There are plenty of people who believe Jackson Jr. has been groomed all of his life to run for the White House. If and when he decides to run for president, could his biggest liability be his father?

Correspondent Carol Marin reports.

''No, I wouldn't refer to Reverend Jackson as a political liability,'' says Jackson Jr. ''I wouldn't necessarily want him to show up in New Hampshire like George Bush did to George W. Bush. That might be problematic. People tend to want to see what their president or their future president would be, without their daddy showing up.''

At the age of 23, Jackson Jr. was still firmly in his father's shadow when, along with his brothers and sisters, he walked on to the national public stage at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. His father had lost his second bid for the presidency. And Jackson Jr. was clearly looking ahead.

''Those who say this is an age of cynicism and despair are wrong,'' Jackson Jr. said then. ''A new generation, my generation, is coming.''

Seven short years later, Jackson Jr. arrived in Washington as a member of Congress.

Now 35, he says he is his own man. For example, virtually every day begins with his vacuuming of his own office, Jackson Jr. says.

''It's relaxing for me,'' he says. ''It's a way for me to think and to reflect. I have a number of vacuum cleaners.''

What would his dad say of this discourse on the merits of vacuum cleaners?

''He'd look at me like I was crazy,'' Jackson Jr. says. ''And certainly when we left this interview he would say to me, 'I can't believe you just talked about vacuuming on 60 Minutes. 'I'd say, 'Reverend, I don't live for tomorrow as much as I live to do what is right by myself and by my community.'''

The community that Jackson represents, the 2nd Congressional District of Illinois, is two-thirds African-American and one third white, with pockets of wealth and with signs of poverty and abandonment. Last winter CBS News toured his district to see some problem areas, like a former U.S. Steel plant that closed in 1992.

''This one facility employed 22,000 people, ensured the economic security and viability of 22,000 families,'' Jackson Jr. says. ''In that economic context there was less crime; there was more hope and more children going to college.''

What he wants for his district, he says, is what every congressman seeks: businesses that attract high-paying jobs. What he gets instead, he says, are offers of government handouts.

''We'r fighting some stigmas here that suggest that we can give Jesse Jr. some welfare-to-work opportunities,'' Jackson says. ''Or we can give him some affirmative action opportunities....I don't want incinerators, prisons, welfare-to-work grants or any other little program designed to address the fundamental disparity problems that exist in my district.''

Jackson Jr. also showed CBS News a sample of water that some might consider undrinkable - the supply for the 5,000 people in Ford Heights, one of Illinois' poorest communities. Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency says the water is safe to drink; it's just discolored by iron in the ground. This summer, thanks in part to a $5 million federal grant secured by Jackson Jr., Ford Heights residents will get a new water tank and clear water.

Some things, though, don't change at all, like an abandoned shopping mall. Vacant for more than 20 years, it was a prop in a Blues Brothers movie the last time it was used. Even today, you can literally drive through the mall, which has become a hideout for gangs and a sanctuary for crime. Jackson has tried but failed so far to have it dismantled.

''I want to tear this mall down before I ever run for any other public office,'' he says. ''And as long as this mall is here, then my job is incomplete.''

''When you see it coming down, you know that I'm moving on to something. It may be home and to my little daughter,'' he says of baby Jessica born to the young congressman and his wife Sandi in March.

If anyone knows what it's like to be the child of a politician, it's Jesse Jr., who as a teen-ager went out on the stump with his father. In 1983 in Quitman County, Miss., CBS News observed Jesse Jr. traveling with Rev. Jackson. There the youngster was in the background, scanning the crowd, almost like a teen-age Secret Service agent.

''When my father was running for president in 1983-'84, my brother and I got very protective of our father's security,'' Jackson Jr. remembers. "On a number of occasions we received calls at home - that my mother sometimes spent sleepless nights because of threats....I felt as I feel even to this day that for his work and for his efforts I would still lay down my life that he might be able to continue.''

Upon his inauguration, Jackson Jr. became the 91st African-American elected to Congress. At his son's ceremony, Rev. Jackson reflected on an incident that took place not far from Capitol Hill more than 50 years ago: After World War II, the reverend's father, a veteran, was returning home to North Carolina on a train that stopped in Washington. Heading south, black American soldiers were ordered to give up their seats to Nazi prisoners of war because white Nazis had more privileges than black soldiers.

''That was a painful thought then and now,'' says Rev. Jackson. ''I was sitting...when Newt Gingrich was swearing him inthe Bible in hand and his hand heisted to the heavens, I was looking toward the train station and my father's generation having given deference to Nazis. And there he was sitting in that seat empowered to make moral decisions. That was a big deal.''

Once in office Jackson Jr., like all members of Congress, was given a special pin to wear that allows him access to places like the White House and Capitol Hill. With the pin on his lapel he can go places ordinary citizens are not allowed.

''When I don't wear that pin, police officers stop me,'' the congressman says. ''They stop me on Capitol Hill. I've been stopped a number of times in Washington, D.C. I've had arguments with Capitol Hill police officers, who on the one hand are letting other members of Congress pass by, but when they see me, they don't immediately necessarily recognize me as a member of Congress. And so very few days go by in Washington that I'm not constantly reminded of similarly situated young African-American men around our country.''

The Capitol Hill police say they have never received any complaint from Rep. Jackson. And if he wasn't wearing his pin, their officers were simply doing their jobs, they say.

On the job in Washington, Jackson has ruffled the feathers of some of the most powerful Democrats around, most notably Congressman Charles Rangel. Jackson challenged Rangel over the bill he sponsored for trade with Africa and argued that the bill didn't go far enough to address issues about that continent's trade debt and the AIDS epidemic. To the disbelief of some Democrats, Jackson's supporters even went as far as to picket Rangel's Washington office.

The congressman, who got a little irritated, said he hoped Jackson Jr.'s awkwardness in dealing with a legislative issue doesn't cause him permanent political damage, because by any legislative standard, it's been unprofessional.

''I've made mistakes,'' Jackson Jr. now says. If he had it to do over again, he adds, ''I would encourage people to be for our legislation and not against anyone else's; this is very important in politics,'' he says. ''I've apologized to Congressman Rangel. And very publicly I'd apologize again. Charlie Rangel is a very good friend of mine.''

And friends are what Jackson will need in his future political life. The next few years will determine if he can grow out of his father's shadow and meet the expectations he says he has lived with all of his life.

Does his father want him to run for president? ''At some time Jesse Jr. ought to run for governor or senator,'' says Rev. Jackson. ''He should have the White House in view because he has all the right stuff.''

Would he see his son running for the presidency as a completion of his own unfinished business?

"The question becomes how long will it take the country to become civil enough to appreciate people...on merit, without taking away points on olor,'' says Rev. Jackson. ''It took us until 1947 to see an African-American could play baseball. We didn't know how good baseball could be until everybody could play. We really do not know how good American politics can be or American business can be until everybody can play.''

''The day that I am a party's nominee, and there's another candidate in the race, millions of Americans are going to have to vote for the candidate they genuinely believe can fix their health care problem,'' says Jackson Jr. ''They're going to vote for the person who can fix the quality of their life....And historically this name, Jesse Jackson, for whatever reason, has not been associated with that.''

''In that name are the emails that I get in my office that should be sent to Jesse Jackson Sr. but end up at Jesse Jackson Jr., and that are titled, tell your daddy this, or tell your daddy to get out of Decatur,'' he says.

"People who would ordinarily not send me an email or not even communicate with me or would probably applaud me for the work that I am doing to change the economic reality for the people in my district - who would vote for me if I were fighting for their economic interest on a national platform. But they never get to that," says the congressman. "They tend to be sidetracked on...the race question.''

''They don't see me,'' Jackson Jr. concludes.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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