Mel Reynolds, Barack Obama's Accidental Godfather

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 28 2012 11:32 AM

Mel Reynolds, Barack Obama's Accidental Godfather

The sad retirement of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. has kicked off a 5-month election for his seat. It's safe, blue, black Democratic turf, so everyone who wants a seat in Congress and lives on the south side of Chicago is bidding for it. The latest entrant:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Former Congressman Mel Reynolds wants his seat back. Reynolds has scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce that he's running to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.
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That seems only fair, because Reynolds is indirectly responsible for the rise of Barack Obama.

- In 1994, Reynolds was indicted for sexual assault against an intern in his first successful campaign. Reynolds could have quit, but he rode out the general election and held onto his safe seat, battening down for a trial.

- On August 22, 1995, Reynolds was convicted. He quit Congress five weeks later. That set up a special election for his seat.

- One of the leading candidates for the open seat was State Sen. Alice Palmer. She temporarily opted against running for her old seat again, and endorsed a well-liked author and activist in Hyde Park -- Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.

- On November 28, 1995, Palmer lost the primary for the House seat to Jesse Jackson, Jr. She tried to run for another term in her old seat, hurriedly gathering 1,580 signatures to make the ballot.

- In the winter of 1996, Obama successfully challenged Palmer's signatures and kicked her off the ballot. He had a glide path into the state Senate, and to a career that would take him to the presidency.

All because of Mel Reynolds.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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