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
“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
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.”