After weeks of rumors and equally strenuous denials, Sandi Jackson resigned as Chicago's 7th Ward alderman Friday, the latest chapter in the stunning, scandal-laced downfall of what had been one of the city's most prominent and powerful political duos.
The decision by Ald. Jackson, who was elected in 2007, came less than two months after husband Jesse Jackson Jr. quit the congressional seat he had held for 17 years amid ongoing federal ethics probes into his campaign finances and a diagnosis of bipolar depression.
In her resignation letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Sandi Jackson alluded to her husband's medical problems by saying she was dealing with "very painful family health matters," making no mention of whether she had become ensnarled in his legal problems. She said the ward and the city "deserve a partner who can commit all of their energies to the business of the people."
"I value the public trust which has been bestowed upon me and take my responsibility to safeguard the interests of my constituents seriously," wrote Jackson, whose resignation is effective Tuesday. "Likewise, I am unapologetically a wife and a mother and I cannot deny my commitment to those most important personal responsibilities."
Ald. Jackson could not be reached for comment, and Jackson Jr. declined to comment at the couple's Washington home.
The mayor, in a statement, thanked Jackson for her service and leadership and said the process "to identify a replacement" will begin early next week. It will be Emanuel's first appointment of a City Council member since his 2011 election as mayor.
A month ago, political chatter swirled that she might seek the South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District seat given up by her husband. But Sandi Jackson denied she was interested in the job and vowed to stay on the City Council.
"I will finish my term. I intend to finish my term," she said then. "Unless something catastrophic happens — I could step outside and get hit by a bus today."
Then-Rep. Jackson Jr. appeared to try to shield his wife in his Thanksgiving eve resignation letter to Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. In the letter, Jackson Jr. publicly acknowledged for the first time that he was under federal criminal investigation into alleged misuse of campaign dollars.
"I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are my mistakes and mine alone," the former congressman wrote. "None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties, and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right."
For years, the former congressman had used his federal campaign fund to pay his wife hundreds of thousands of dollars as a political consultant. Since 2006, Jackson Jr.'s federal campaign fund has sent more than $280,000 to Sandi Jackson's two local campaign funds, state records show. Such transfers are legal.
Jackson Jr. had often noted his decision to run for Congress in 1995 was motivated by his wife, who had worked in Washington and on Democratic campaigns prior to their 1991 marriage. She previously had worked for the U.S. Export-Import Bank and was deputy director for training at the Democratic National Committee.
In February 2007, she was elected as 7th Ward alderman after defeating Darcel Beavers, the daughter of Cook County Commissioner William Beavers. Darcel Beavers had been appointed to the council by then-Mayor Richard Daley. Jackson later defeated Commissioner Beavers as Democratic ward committeeman.
Those victories were steps toward erasing once-powerful political rivals, including brothers William and Robert Shaw, and an attempt to create a dynasty of Jackson-backed politicians. Those Jackson Jr. allies, though, now largely have gone by the wayside, including former state Sen. James Meeks, former state Rep. David Miller of Lynwood and former state Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson. Kelly is seeking Jackson's former congressional seat among 17 Democrats that have filed.
But the Jackson brand became tarnished in late 2008 when allegations surfaced that supporters of the then-congressman offered to raise up to $6 million for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for the governor appointing him to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama's election.
Then-Rep. Jackson never was charged in the case that sent Blagojevich to prison, but a House ethics committee probe into the allegations was later eclipsed by a Washington-based federal criminal investigation of his campaign fund use.
In addition, Jackson Jr. apologized after reports surfaced in 2010 that a fundraiser had flown a female "social acquaintance" to Chicago at the congressman's request. Sandi Jackson issued her own statement at the time, saying the couple had for months been trying to deal quietly with the "painful and unfortunate situation."
Still, Jackson Jr. easily won re-election last year, despite having taken an initially undisclosed medical leave from Congress in June. His lone general election campaign outreach effort was an automated call to voters placed shortly before the election.
Since he stepped down, rumors persisted that Sandi Jackson also would vacate her aldermanic seat, which she held by traveling from the family's Washington home to attend City Council meetings. Her decision Friday was a surprise to some, not as much to others.
"I didn't see very many good things coming," Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, said of the Jacksons' saga. "I thought it would get more and more publicity, and none of that would be flattering."
"She was one of my favorite colleagues," said Ald. Willie Cochran, 20th. "It makes me heavy-hearted because of the troubles her family is having."
Emanuel had been preparing for an eventual resignation, sources close to the mayor indicated. But the 7th Ward political territory has been decimated by what has happened to the Jacksons, as well as to William Beavers, who is facing federal corruption charges.
Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor "is looking for someone who has a history of community involvement and engagement" and is expected to set out his plans by early next week.
Tribune reporters David Kidwell and John Byrne in Chicago and Katherine Skiba from Washington contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun