Don’t call it a comeback! Actually, I guess you can since he’s spent time in jail. Either way, former Rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., was among the 22 people who have filed to run for Rep. Jesse Jackson’s, D-Ill., now-open House seat. Jackson resigned amid a federal ethics investigation, an adultery scandal and an admitted mental health problem.
Don’t remember Mel Reynolds? Well, he represented the Illinois second congressional district prior to Jackson, from 1993 to 1995. He had to take some time off after he was convicted of statutory rape in October 1995 for having sex with a 16 year-old campaign staffer. He was also convicted of soliciting child pornography. He was subsequently convicted of federal financial and campaign finance fraud charges while in jail.
Reynolds had a dodgy history even before the convictions. By 1993, he had been sued 16 times according to Cook County court records for writing bad checks. Seven of the lawsuits resulted in judgments of $53,552. He also defaulted on two Harvard University loans, totaling $18,000. When a magazine began researching his financial background, Reynolds tried to lure the reporter off his trail by saying should instead be investigating another unnamed black member of Congress who, he claimed, hadn’t paid child support in 10 years.
His sentence was commuted by President Clinton in 2001, an action that was arranged by … Jesse Jackson Sr. (Jackson and Clinton had become close after Jackson “mentored” Clinton after his sex scandal with intern Monica Lewinsky. Jackson Senior was undoubtedly sympathetic, having had his own problems in this regard.)
Reynolds has been aiming to regain his old seat for years. He lost a 2004 primary bid to Jackson junior 89-6 percent. Still he remains optimistic, telling the Chicago Tribune his campaign theme is “redemption” and that wants voters to allow him to “finish the work” he started. His signs say “Re-Elect Reynolds.” According to the Tribune:
Reynolds sought to downplay his previous convictions, contending “it was almost 18, 20 years ago” and that his past crimes “shouldn’t be a life sentence.”
“The fact of the matter is, nobody’s perfect,” Reynolds said, adding that voters should “look at the entire history of me,” including what people do “after they make mistakes.” Reynolds, however, stopped short of acknowledging guilt for any of his crimes.
Reynolds may indeed have a second chance. There is something about Illinois’s second district. Reynolds won his seat after defeating Rep. Gus Savage, who had been condemned by the House Ethics Committee for sexual misconduct for having an affair with a Peace Corps volunteer while visiting Zaire on official business.