The 'Wrongs' of 'Mr. Civil Rights'

Why Jesse Jackson's Political Comeback Seems Doomed

 Please know that your relationship with me and Canaan cannot be repaired until you make a public or written apology. I will not allow you to disrespect my person or the people I serve. Until such time, please do not call me or ask for my assistance in any manner.—Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker in a confidential letter to Jesse Jackson

For the past four months, Jesse Jackson has been in free fall, hurtling into a political abyss. In one of his darkest hours, Jackson sought refuge at the historic Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem. Now the Voice has learned that the confessed philanderer was handed a "letter of moral censure" by Canaan's pastor and banned from the church for breaking a promise to apologize for fathering an illegitimate child.

Jackson appeared at the 116th Street chapel on January 23, but quickly transformed a mutually agreed upon Service of Penance into a political revival. "I am grieved and hurt that you violated the format of the service that you requested to be held at my church," Canaan's Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker told Jackson in a February 1 letter obtained by the Voice. "I acceded to your wishes reluctantly and quickly discouraged you from making it a cause celebre. . . . "

In his letter to the embattled leader of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a furious Walker predicted that Jackson's current problems may be an indication of more sinister tribulations ahead. He drew Jackson's attention to an unflattering piece about him in Time magazine by Jack White ("The End of the Rainbow: How Can Jesse Jackson Preach Morality After Fathering a Love Child?"), then delivered a warning.

"That is mild [compared] to what you are going to see and hear for a long time because you did not keep your word about taking some form of sabbatical as a symbol of penance," Walker declared. "I fear that you have damaged your credibility beyond repair in your laissez faire attitude to the mess you have made." With the breaking news that Jackson's former mistress has sued him for child support, Walker's fear may have been realized.

On April 29, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on its Web site that Karin Stanford—with whom Jackson has a two-year-old daughter—filed suit in Los Angeles two weeks ago seeking child-support payments and visitation arrangements. She took the action after unsuccessful negotiations with Jackson and his attorneys, according to Stanford's spokeswoman, Michelle Jordan. Jackson, the newspaper said, insists that he and Stanford are not at odds. Jackson has said he pays Stanford $3000 a month in child support. And Jackson's attorney, Willie Gary, confirmed that details of a settlement have been worked out with Stanford's attorneys that requires Jackson to pay $4000 a month, establish a college fund, and take out a life insurance policy for the child.

Jackson aides also have acknowledged that Stanford, a former staff member of the Citizenship Education Fund—another group run by Jackson—had received a $35,000 severance package. She received a total of $110,000 in salary and severance pay in 1999. In an exclusive interview with Savoy magazine's editor in chief Roy S. Johnson, published in the June-July edition, Jackson was asked about reports that he had desperately tried to conceal the fact that he was the father of Stanford's child. Consider this exchange:

Savoy: Right before she had the child, your organization issued a release that identified someone by the name of James Simmons, an attorney, as the baby's father. Was that a lie?

Jackson: No. I won't discuss that now. It soon became clear and apparent what happened, and I assume my responsibility.

Savoy: So you did not lie?

Jackson: I didn't. . . .

It has become clear to many Americans—who do not know what to believe—that Jackson's political comeback may be doomed. From Cincinnati to Washington, the cries of "Mr. Civil Rights" have been ignored. A former Dinkins administration official who met with Jackson recently described him as depressed over the personal and political turmoil swirling around him. "He is not the same Jesse Jackson I've known for all these years," the source says. "His whole demeanor is pitiful."

On April 18, as detractors were measuring a coffin for Jackson, pollsters threw him a lifeline. The Gallup Organization released a poll showing that despite the fall from grace, Jackson had an 83 percent favorable rating among 1000 blacks who participated in its survey. In the same poll, Secretary of State Colin Powell ranked second with a 73 percent rating, and Reverend Al Sharpton, who is being touted as Jackson's successor, came in third with 54 percent. Although Jackson was elevated to the top of the black political chain, many in the African American community have been declaring, "Jesse, you are the weakest link."

In January, at the height of the "love child" scandal, Jackson called on an old nemesis, Reverend Walker, who was a former top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson asked Walker to convene a prayer vigil for him at Canaan and personally preside over the event. "When you spoke to me . . . at Franklin Richardson's study, I was candid enough to voice my reservations about Canaan being the venue since I could not be present," Walker recalled in his letter to Jackson.

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