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Reynolds runs again despite sex conviction
He wants old Congress seat back
By John Chase
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 8, 2003
The strange saga of convicted sex offender Mel Reynolds took yet another odd twist Tuesday when the former Chicago congressman, standing beside his wife, who once accused him of beating her repeatedly, announced plans to try to retake his House seat.
Less than three years out of prison, where he also served time on federal fraud charges, Reynolds said he wanted voters to return him to Washington to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), whose father helped shorten Reynolds' time in prison.
The 51-year-old Reynolds was convicted in 1995 on state charges of having an improper sexual relationship with a 16-year-old campaign aide and two years later on federal charges of bank and campaign fraud. He served 2 1/2 years in state prison and then was shifted to a federal prison until President Bill Clinton, hours before leaving office in 2001, commuted Reynolds' federal sentence with two years left to serve.
Standing under a campaign banner that declared "Never Give Up," Reynolds admitted that he is not "a perfect servant" and acknowledged that he had "made mistakes in the past." But Reynolds, who now works at a church in Harvey, insisted he is the right man to replace Jackson in Congress because Jackson has ignored the needs of constituents.
Reynolds made the announcement at his South Side campaign headquarters, where he was joined by his wife, Marisol, who in 1996 received probation after pleading guilty to the same federal fraud charges leveled against her husband. She alleged at the time that he had frequently beaten her, and she has twice filed for divorce but not followed through.
Though he billed his announcement as a news conference, Reynolds read a statement and then refused to answer questions from reporters except on a one-on-one basis.
Marisol Reynolds declined comment Tuesday, even though her name was listed on campaign material as an information contact. Her husband refused to talk about the domestic-abuse allegations, though he has denied them in the past.
`We'll wait and see'
"I have no comment about my personal life whatsoever," Reynolds said. "Let them bring up whatever they want to bring up. We'll wait and see."
In challenging Jackson, Reynolds acknowledged that the congressman's father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, wrote a letter to Clinton asking him to commute Reynolds' sentence. After the president agreed and Reynolds was freed, the elder Jackson gave Reynolds consultant work at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and then worked to help secure a full-time job for Reynolds at the Salem Baptist Church headed by Rev. James Meeks.
But Reynolds said he doesn't think he owes the Jacksons anything, noting that he worked for Jackson's presidential campaign in 1984.
"Why should [Jackson Jr.] get a free pass? If I wasn't doing my job as a congressman I wouldn't get a free pass," Reynolds said. "Why should he get a free pass because he's Jesse Jackson's son?"
Indeed, Reynolds said, only weeks after he was indicted on the state charges and was still representing parts of the South Side and south suburbs in Congress, the younger Jackson had already begun sending clear signals that he was poised to take Reynolds' place if he left office.
"Was he disloyal two weeks after I was indicted to come into the district and start campaigning for my job? Was that disloyal? He did that. ... He was campaigning after I got indicted," Reynolds said. "When Jesse Jr. gave a speech at Operation PUSH condemning me before I was convicted or anything, was that disloyalty?"
Spoke to Jackson rivals
Reynolds said he had spoken to Jackson rivals, Dolton Mayor William Shaw and his twin brother, Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Robert Shaw, about running for the congressional seat. But Reynolds said the brothers did not ask him to run and are not behind his campaign.
"Of course I've talked to them. ... I've talked to just about every elected official out here," Reynolds said. "But I ran against [William] Shaw in 1994. He tried to take my seat in Congress. In 1992 when I defeated [former Rep.] Gus Savage, their ward was the toughest ward to fight because they were with Gus."
He also said he thinks he has a real chance of winning.
"I'm not anybody's sacrificial lamb. I'm just not going to be," he said.
Reynolds worked for Meeks' church for about a year before moving to his current job, executive director for New Hope Community Development Commission, which is part of St. Mark's Missionary Baptist Church in Harvey, headed by Bishop Willie Jordan. She is the chairman of Reynolds' campaign.
Reynolds resigned from the House in 1995 after he was convicted of several sex-related charges, including criminal sexual assault and solicitation of child pornography, and sentenced to 5 years in prison after being found guilty of having an improper affair with 16-year-old campaign worker Beverly Heard.
Reynolds also received 5 years in federal prison after he and his wife were charged with a wide range of fraud relating to their personal and his campaign finances. He had more than two years left to serve when Clinton commuted the sentence in the hours before he left office.
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
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