At home, he began building a local political organization on the South Side and in the south suburbs, an operation that successfully supplanted the once-powerful Shaw brothers, twins Bill and Bob.
A decade after entering Congress, Jackson appeared on his way to challenging then-Mayor Richard Daley. Jackson routinely criticized Daley, who had feared a strong African-American challenger. But after Democrats took control of the House, Jackson took himself out of the mayoral race to sit in the majority in Washington.
But along the way, Jackson also found his star as one of the state's leading and most promising black politicians giving way to another South Side lawmaker, Obama, who moved from the Illinois Senate to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and won the presidency four years later.
While the congressman served as a supporter and surrogate for Obama, he also had created his share of enemies — from Daley to then-House colleague Debbie Halvorson and Blagojevich. His incessant push for a south suburban airport in Peotone, which was then outside his district, launched fights with Will County officials. Blagojevich felt Jackson snubbed him by withholding a promised endorsement.
But Blagojevich found a renewed interest in Jackson after Obama's 2008 White House victory as he sought to personally and politically enrich himself through the Senate appointment.
Jackson campaigned for the appointment publicly. But federal authorities, in making their case against Blagojevich, alleged it was Raghuveer Nayak, a Blagojevich fundraiser and longtime friend of the Jackson family, who offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign money for the then-governor in exchange for appointing Jackson to the Senate. Jackson repeatedly said he had no knowledge of such an offer.
In June, days after Nayak was indicted on federal charges of bribing doctors to use his surgical treatment centers, Jackson's office announced that the congressman had taken a medical leave of absence from Congress two weeks earlier — a leave from which he never returned.
In subsequent months, Jackson aides refused to disclose much information about the congressman or make his doctors available for questions. He had been treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he was diagnosed with bipolar depression, though his whereabouts Wednesday were unknown.
Only weeks before the Nov. 6 election, reports surfaced about the federal investigation into Jackson's alleged misuse of campaign funds. Regardless of the investigation, he was a shoo-in for re-election against a little-known Republican challenger and won with 63 percent of the vote.
Now voters in the district that includes parts of Cook, Will and Kankakee counties will be facing a new primary and general election for the seat, a proposition that Illinois State Board of Elections officials said could cost taxpayers more than $5million. Cook County Clerk David Orr said he might seek court approval to set up the special elections on the same days as the Feb. 26 primary and April 9 general elections for municipalities in the state, a move that could save money and voter confusion.
Among some of the early names to surface as contenders are two political discards, former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, who was dumped by county voters more than two years ago, and the man Jackson succeeded in Congress, Reynolds. Though convicted of a felony, Reynolds still has the ability to run for federal office.
Another name that surfaced was Halvorson, the former one-term congresswoman from Crete whom Jackson easily dispatched in the March primary by 71 percent to 29 percent. Others who could be in the mix are state Sens. Toi Hutchinson of Olympia Fields and Donne Trotter from the South Side as well as incoming state Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former linebacker from Flossmoor elected just weeks ago.
Among those considering a play for the seat are Alds. Anthony Beale, 9th, and Will Burns, 4th, a protege of Obama, as well as former state Reps. David Mille of Lynwood and Robin Kelly of Matteson. Blagojevich's onetime attorney Sam Adam Jr. also has expressed interest in running.
Tribune reporters Ray Long and John Byrne contributed.