Campaign Crawlers

Winds of Change in the Windy City

A Republican offers hope in corruption-weary Chicago.

By 9.24.10

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Isaac Hayes wasn't always happy to share the same name as a singer famed for "Shaft" and other 1970s soul classics.

"All of my life, I've had to deal with that," say Hayes. "I didn't appreciate it as a kid, but now, I think my Mom and Dad were geniuses.… It helps break the ice."

Breaking the ice is important for Hayes in his campaign in the 2nd District of Illinois, where he is perhaps the GOP's longest of long-shot candidates for Congress this year. Encompassing the southside suburbs of Chicago near the border with Indiana, the district's electorate is so heavily Democratic that two years ago, 90 percent voted for President Obama. The 2nd District hasn't elected a Republican to Congress in 60 years.

Why, then, did the Republican challenger find himself with a crowded schedule of media interviews this week? The explanation involves the incumbent Democrat, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Son of the famed civil-rights activist, Jackson Jr. was among numerous Illinois Democrats who coveted the Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama was elected to the White House. According to testimony at the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, at a meeting in October 2008, businessman Raghuveer Nayak offered Blagojevich $6 million to appoint Jackson to the Senate. The appointment eventually went to former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris, and the scandal over the "auction" of Obama's seat was enough to get Blagojevich impeached by the state legislature and indicted on federal corruption charges. ("Blago" was convicted on one minor count last month, although the jury deadlocked on most of the charges and the prosecutor is now seeking a retrial.)

Of course, even the most flagrant corruption could not usually be expected to hinder a Democrat's re-election in Chicago, and even the shadow of a continuing federal investigation did nothing to damage Jackson's prospects for an easy return to Congress. And then came the bombshell -- a blonde bombshell.

Giovana Huidobro is a hostess at Ozio, a trendy D.C. cocktail bar where Jackson sometimes held fund-raising events. A former bikini model, Huidobro was also evidently the mistress of the married congressman. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Jackson's patron Nayak paid for Huidobro to make at least two trips to Chicago at Jackson's request. Jackson has not denied the affair, reportedly describing Huidobro as a "social acquaintance."

A little bribery and a little adultery might be par for the course among Democrats in notoriously corrupt Chicago, but the blondeness of Jackson's mistress struck some of his former admirers as a betrayal of the congressman's identity-politics bargain with the city's black community.

"Once again, a high-profile, married black professional has been caught dallying with a white woman he plucked from the ranks of restaurant hostesses," Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote, comparing Jackson to Tiger Woods and calling the revelation "the kind of thing that gives a black woman a migraine." Jackson "has campaigned as a pro-black politician," Mitchell wrote, and should know "the self-esteem issues that black women have had to deal with when it comes to black men dating white women."

In the 2nd District, where more than 60 percent of residents are black, could the kind of resentments expressed by Mitchell be enough to cause some previously loyal Democrats to consider voting Republican? As Mitchell wrote in her Thursday column, Hayes "until now…might as well have been a ghost candidate," but the disclosure of Jackson's extramarital dalliance has made the prospect of a GOP upset slightly less supernatural.

A member of the ministry team at the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God in the southside Woodlawn community where he grew up, Hayes has campaigned vigorously since declaring his candidacy in August 2009. The Blagojevich trial showed that Jackson "directly in the midst of the conspiracy," Hayes says. "I felt we needed somebody who would bring back ethics and integrity to Congress."

He cites the failing schools and economic woes of the 2nd District -- where many neighborhoods don't have gas stations or grocery stores -- as demonstrating the need for new policies. And Hayes, whose website address is Isaac4Honesty.com, says voters are "fed up" with corruption in both parties.

"People are ready for change," he says, noting the election of Republican Rep. Joseph Cao to replace corrupt Democrat William Jefferson in New Orleans, as well as Sen. Scott Brown's January victory in Massachusetts. "It's possible in this climate."

That belief that anything is possible for GOP candidates this year may explain why Hayes will be appearing with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele at an Oct. 15 "Fire Pelosi Bus Tour" rally in the 2nd District. Hayes declined to comment on Jackson's adultery, but admitted that the people he's talked to in the community "are certainly interested" in the latest scandal. "Many people are very disappointed," Hayes said.

The blonde bombshell scandal that hit Jackson this week was one of those unanticipated events that have made 2010 such an unpredictable year in politics. No one would dare predict a Republican victory in the 2nd District, but some are certainly praying for it and, as a Pentecostal minister, Hayes believes in the power of prayer.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.