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Mel Reynolds

M. Spencer Green, Associated Press

Convicted felon seeks return to Congress

  • Article by: DON BABWIN
  • Associated Press
  • November 28, 2012 - 7:28 PM

CHICAGO - Just a few blocks from a courthouse where he was convicted of fraud and a few miles from another where he was convicted of having sex with a minor, former U.S. Rep Mel Reynolds announced on Wednesday that he is running for the congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.

Reynolds is just the latest entry in a race that has unleashed a frenzy of ambition, with politicians from every level seeing their once-in-a-lifetime shot at Washington -- or a chance at redemption. The list runs from a former congresswoman to a former NFL star to an attorney who once defended imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Jackson, the son of a civil rights icon, resigned last week, citing his ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder. He also confirmed that he is the subject of a federal investigation.

Reynolds adds an additional layer of intrigue, startling even by the standards of Chicago -- a city with a sizable reputation for corruption and that recently sent a politician back to the legislature despite being under federal indictment.

Reynolds, who was released from prison in 2001 after President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence, announced his latest political plans on Wednesday at a news conference in Chicago.

"People are human, they make mistakes," said Reynolds, who spoke in front of a sign that read: "REDEMPTION."

A Harvard graduate and a Rhodes scholar, Reynolds unseated Rep. Gus Savage in 1992, two years after a House ethics committee determined that Savage had made improper sexual advances to a female Peace Corps volunteer during an official trip to Africa.

Like Jackson after him, Reynolds was a rising star in Democratic politics when he was elected. He was considered the "anti-Savage" candidate.

But then Reynolds was convicted in state court in the sex case and sent to prison in 2005. Later, while still behind bars, he was convicted of fraud for concealing debts to obtain bank loans and diverting money intended for voter registration drives into his election campaign.

Despite that background, Reynolds said he thinks he has a good chance at winning. He characterized his legal problems as "mistakes" rather than crimes and predicted they would be forgiven in a district and city that just elected state Rep. Derrick Smith, even though he has been indicted on federal corruption charges.

"People aren't into closing doors on people," he said.

Political observers aren't so sure, saying that as forgiving as voters can be, they will be hard-pressed to forgive someone convicted of such serious charges.

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