- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

CHICAGO As the Rev. Jesse Jackson presided over his Wall Street Project's annual conference this week, his stock as a civil rights leader is under assault, particularly here on his home turf.
In the past two months, the 61-year-old Mr. Jackson has encountered lawsuits and public protests, and he's filed 2001 tax forms that show a $3 million decline in revenue from 2000.
The loudest of the burgeoning anti-Jackson voices, though, is right here, where Mr. Jackson lives and operates his corporations and tax-exempt organizations.
These outspoken critics include clergy, pipe fitters, janitors and doctors. They are all black, and most of them are Democrats.
"It is not about bashing Jesse Jackson," said Andre Ivy, a 33-year-old construction worker from suburban Blue Island. As he grew up in the Chicago area, Mr. Jackson was held out to him by his peers as "the black leader."
"He wasn't my leader," Mr. Ivy said. "But people until now have always been too afraid to speak out against him because there are repercussions, or at least that was the fear."
Two years ago, it was almost impossible to find anyone in the Chicago area to speak out against Mr. Jackson, such was his power even after the revelation that he had fathered a child from an his affair with a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition staffer.
Now, though, more and more people are not afraid of Mr. Jackson's power, which they say is diminishing with age.
Mr. Jackson, who could not be reached for comment, told The Washington Times last month that his foes are politically motivated.
The Wall Street Project, according to a press release on the Rainbow/PUSH Web site, "reveals patterns of exclusion through research, and [aims] to leverage companies into mutually beneficial relationships. The idea is to encourage corporate leaders to embrace inclusion as a means of growth."
In other parts of the country, businesses and groups are bucking Mr. Jackson's strong grip on the civil rights industry.
A civil complaint filed last week in Los Angeles County charges that Mr. Jackson engaged in unfair business practices.
The complaint says Mr. Jackson called James Stern, head of the National Association of Cosmetologists, and asked his help in mounting a boycott of MGM Studios over the film "Barbershop."
When Mr. Stern rebuffed him, according to the complaint, Mr. Jackson continued to say he had the backing of Mr. Stern's group during talks with MGM.
Mr. Jackson was angered by the movie when it criticized elements of the civil rights movement, including taking a poke at him.
"There should be nobody in this country that is afraid of Mr. Jackson and his threats of boycotts," said Mr. Stern, who is seeking $10 million in damages.
But the nastiest battle going on right now is in Mr. Jackson's back yard.
The Rev. Lance Davis, a 40-year-old pastor at J. Claude Allen Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in the South Chicago suburb of Dixmoor, leads a congregation believing fervently that Mr. Jackson has not followed through on a commitment to equality.
Mr. Davis is married to a physician and is a father of four. He leads Voices of Morality, an upstart activist group that, members say, aims to "reintroduce morals to political and social leadership in the Chicago area."
"When the world at large perceives Jesse Jackson as a leader of black America, we all are tarnished," Mr. Davis says. "Jesse Jackson has been called a black leader as the black community here has floundered. That's not leadership."
Mr. Davis has led marches on the headquarters of Rainbow/PUSH and the beer distributorship owned and operated by two of Mr. Jackson's sons, Jonathan and Yusef.
Still, Mr. Jackson remains a fixture in the pages of the black newspaper the Chicago Defender and in the hearty esteem of many political leaders, black and white.
"Jesse is more valuable now than ever," says Hermene Hartman, publisher of N'Digo, a weekly magazine whose coverage includes black issues. "He is now a statesman, as opposed to an experimental protester."
If anything, Mr. Jackson has been strengthened by his opposition, says Chinta Strausberg, a reporter for the Chicago Defender.
"I get letters from people who have read about these protesters, and they say they are more willing to help Reverend Jackson keep going. He's probably received more donations as a result of this."
In a poll conducted late last year by Research America for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 60 percent of blacks had a favorable view of Mr. Jackson, 26 percent had an unfavorable view and 14 percent were indifferent.
For the population as a whole, 31 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Mr. Jackson, 55 percent an unfavorable view and 14 percent had no opinion.
The Operation PUSH Saturday-morning service, a tradition in some segments of the community, continues to draw well.
Earlier this month, nearly 300 people came to hear Mr. Jackson, in his role as a man of the cloth, lead a worship that was two parts religion and one part ideology.
"Saddam is contained; Bush is out of control," Mr. Jackson told the gathering.
Those in attendance ranged in age from 18 to 80, some wearing fancy fur coats and driving expensive cars. Others looked like blue-collar Midwesterners with Cubs jackets and engineer boots.
The message remains the same as it was when Operation PUSH started in the 1970s. From a pulpit adorned with a PUSH logo that uses a dollar sign for the "S," he berates Republicans and promotes more government help for people on hard times.


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