CHICAGO — Headlines in his hometown here called him a "buttinsky" and said he should have stayed in Kuwait. His candidate for mayor lost. His followers almost rioted. But, like a true Chicago pol, the Rev. Jesse Jackson just smiled through the egg on his face. No pain, no gain, he said.
"Sideline leaders have no scars and no stars. Leadership takes place at the point of challenge," Jackson said Wednesday in defense of his failed effort to pick the late Mayor Harold Washington's successor.
The scars may fade, along with the angry crowds that briefly threatened violence Tuesday night if the City Council did not elect the man favored by Jackson and members of Washington's kitchen cabinet. Now, even some of the harshest critics of Jackson's role say his Democratic presidential candidacy may emerge stronger.
White Liberals Excluded
"It may even enhance the Jackson mythology, by his appearing to stand up for a reform candidate," said Alderman Lawrence Bloom, who had been critical of Jackson for excluding white liberals from strategy sessions after Washington's death.
Jackson's choice for the mayor's job, black Alderman Timothy Evans, was promoted as the reform candidate because he appeared most likely to carry on the legacy of Washington, the city's first black mayor. Washington successfully bucked the city's white-dominated Democratic machine and gave many people, especially minority members, their first sense of importance in civic affairs.
The man who beat Evans, Alderman Eugene Sawyer, also is black, but his ties to the old machine aroused enmity among many Washington loyalists. The bitterness toward Sawyer and his black allies on the council was so extreme that one speaker at a rally on Monday compared the Sawyer faction to black soldiers in South Africa who shoot their own people.
'Don't Get Rowdy'
Jackson helped to keep the peace at one point. "Don't get rowdy. Don't get locked up in jail. That's not the way. That's not an effective strategy," he told the gathering of nearly 10,000 people.
On Wednesday, after Sawyer's election, Jackson said he had sent a telegram to the new mayor wishing him Godspeed and success in continuing to "build the broad-based coalition" started by Washington.
He denied rumors that he might want to run for mayor of Chicago in the 1989 general election, assuming that his presidential campaign is unsuccessful. Jackson described Sawyer as an amiable fellow "who works well with people in a quiet sort of way."
Robert Squier, a longtime consultant to Democrats, said Jackson's actions "will have positive repercussions among black voters in South Carolina and North Carolina as well as Chicago."
Moreover, Squier said Jackson has to take risks to compete with other candidates who have more mainstream political credentials.
'Establish His Stature'
"Having not been an elected official, Jackson has to establish his stature in other ways," Squier said.
Jackson broke off a trip to the Middle East and rushed back to Chicago when he heard the news of Washington's death last week. In doing so, he chose not to heed advisers who thought it would be risky for him to plunge into the city's turbulent politics.
Mike McGann, executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party, said he saw no indication that the events in Chicago altered, one way or the other, Jackson's long-shot status among Illinois Democratic voters, who will cast ballots in a key presidential primary on March 15.
"The prevailing wisdom here, before and after Harold Washington's death, is that Jackson will carry about three of the state's 22 congressional districts and that (Sen.) Paul Simon will take the rest," McGann said.
The three districts in which Jackson is doing well, McGann said, are heavily black areas in Chicago.
Support for Jackson Seen
Many of the black aldermen who walked out on Jackson and threw in with members of the white Democratic machine are expected to back Jackson for President. But their actions show that they will not always follow a man who has had less political experience than they have in their own hometown.
"Jesse Jackson has always been more popular with black politicians outside of Chicago than inside," said Paul Green, a political science professor at Governors State University near here and an expert on Chicago mayoral politics.
"Jackson has always been viewed as a dabbler," Green said. "When the TV lights go on, he comes back to town. When they go off, he leaves."
Staff writer Bob Secter contributed to this story.