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Thu Nov 22, 2012, 10:27 AM

The Humbling Tragedy of Jesse Jackson Jr. [View all]

Nov 21, 2012 6:20 PM EST

Once considered a potential presidential candidate, the congressman and son of the famous civil-rights leader resigned his House seat as he negotiates with federal prosecutors. James Warren reports.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. prides himself on being a student of the Civil War and has for years visited historic battlefields. So when he sent his letter of resignation (PDF) to House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, he might well have felt like the besieged Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox Court House.

What once looked like to be a new era in both Chicago and national politics that began with his 1995 special-election victory to a South Side vacancy has crashed amid political, legal and physical disarray. A born-to-the-political-manor princeling has thrown up a white flag—and the worst may be yet to come.

Jackson has been under an ethical cloud since the election in 2008 of Barack Obama as the first black president—a distinction the namesake son of the famous civil-rights leader was once considered a frontrunner to achieve. The congressman aggressively pressed Gov. Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate seat that Obama had held, and a House investigation into his dealings with the now-jailed governor had been ongoing.

But Jackson’s departure was reportedly tied to his negotiating a plea agreement in an unrelated criminal investigation involving illegal use of campaign funds to renovate his house. In his letter of resignation—where he said he was stepping down “to focus on restoring my health—Jackson acknowledged that “I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly.”

Past the criminal probes, the 47-year-old Jackson’s marriage was challenged by reports of an extramarital affair with a bikini model and Washington waitress and, several months ago, he was hospitalized with bipolar disorder. He took a leave of absence from the House of Representatives in early June—though he did not publicly disclose that fact for more than two weeks and, successfully won reelection in his heavily Democratic district despite not campaigning for a single minute.

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