Disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds said he will ask voters to focus on his congressional experience rather than his state and federal criminal record as he announced his bid today for the seat held by Jesse Jackson Jr., who has resigned.
At a downtown hotel news conference, Reynolds acknowledged having made “mistakes” in the past. For his campaign, he will try to assume the mantle of an incumbent while also seeking redemption from voters. Red and white campaign signs urged voters to “re-elect” Reynolds “so he can finish the work” while another stark red sign with white letters said simply: “Redemption.”
Reynolds held the 2nd Congressional District seat from 1993 until October 1995, when a Cook County jury convicted him of several sex-related charges, including having sex with an underage volunteer campaign worker. While serving time in state prison, Reynolds also was convicted on federal financial and campaign fraud charges. President Bill Clinton commuted Reynolds' sentence to time served in 2001.
Under law, Reynolds, formerly a South Side resident who is now renting in Dolton, no longer has to register as a sex offender.
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.
Though Reynolds sought to focus on his experience in Congress, where he served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, his entry into the contest was yet another sorry reminder of the congressional representation that voters on the South Side and south suburbs have had with their last three representatives.
Reynolds replaced Gus Savage, a controversial and outspoken congressman who was condemned by the House Ethics Committee amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving a Peace Corps volunteer while he was on an official congressional visit to Zaire.
After Reynolds resigned, Jackson won a special election in 1995 to succeed him. But after 17 years, Jackson stepped down last week amid federal ethics investigations and a diagnosis of bipolar depression.
Unlike his failed 2004 primary bid against Jackson, in which Reynolds lost by an 89 percent to 6 percent margin, Reynolds was not joined this time in his announcement by his wife, Marisol. The two have had a history of marital problems. As he spoke about raising his children almost like a single parent, Reynolds said he was not divorced but wanted to leave questions about his wife out of the campaign.
Reynolds said he is self-employed as a financial consultant who acts as a broker between African investors and U.S. companies. But if there was a symbol that he misses Congress, despite his short tenure there, it was the shining black GMC SUV parked outside his news conference with retired congressional license plates that read “MR.”