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Jesse Jackson Jr. Sparks Group Hug in Denver

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Jesse Jackson Jr. Sparks Group Hug in Denver

Gov. Rod Blagojevich hugged longtime rival Michael Madigan this morning. (WBEZ/Justin Kaufmann)

Political conventions are heavily scripted events—full of planned pageantry and staged moments. Earlier today, the Illinois political delegation broke from the script during its morning breakfast meeting at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Illinois Democrats are notoriously fractured these days, with relationships so contemptuous and nasty that they sometimes inhibit the basic functions of government. And yet today, a thousand miles from home, the group spontaneously turned down the fighting and turned up the hugging.

WATCH VIDEO of Illinois Pols Hugging

When the Illinois delegation got here earlier this week, there was so much bad blood that the idea, just the idea that anyone might make amends was a joke.

Like on Sunday, when Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan walked through the hotel lobby.

Reporters asked him if the convention might be a good time for him and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to patch things up.

REPORTER: The governor’s coming in, are you guys going to try to get together.
MADIGAN: We are together. The idea that we are not together is just a figment of the imagination of the media.
REPORTER: Oh, come on.

And that’s how it was.

People would ask, and Illinois Democrats would take turns paying lip service, with phrases like come together and party unity.

Then on Wednesday morning, ailing Congressman Bobby Rush took the mic.

And he took a veiled stab at Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Rush has been battling cancer and there was recently a newspaper column saying Jackson’s wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson was thinking about running for Rush’s congressional seat.

Rush took offense, and this morning he took a shot at Jackson in front of everyone, calling him out by telling a story about an eagle and what he referred to as the lesser birds of the sky.

RUSH: The lesser birds of the sky are always trying to figure out a scheme on how they’re going to take the eagle’s spot.

To understand what happened next, how unusual it was, you have to know that politics is often defined by bitter and petty rivalries.

The intersection of money, power and ego seems to be the perfect place for slights or even just perceived slights to spiral out of control.

Those conflicts can destroy relationship for years, decades.

They can grind government into gridlock.

And, for the most part, these conflicts stay out of public view, too complicated and messy to make it into the news.

That said, shortly after Rush sat down, Jackson took the podium.

JACKSON: What an exciting time it is for all of us in Illinois to watch our favorite son accept the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

After that, Jackson started to talk about family, about Barack Obama, about the election.

And then, just as he got ready to step down, he started talking about forgiveness.

JACKSON: Acts of reconciliation are all around us, but we don’t put them front and center.

Then he turned to Rush, who’d spent much of his speech trashing Jackson with his thinly veiled metaphor about being an eagle.

JACKSON: Bobby if there’s anything I’ve ever done, or we’ve ever done to offend you, I’m leaving it at this convention. You’re my friend, and I appreciate you.

Then, just like that, Jackson climbed down from the stage...Rush stood up, and in front of the whole delegation, the two hugged.

JACKSON: I want the best for you.

But that was just the start.

JACKSON: Debbie Halvorson.

Jackson turned to Debbie Halvorson, a state senator running for Congress.

The two have been at odds over the possible construction of a new airport south of Chicago.

JACKSON: Where are you?

They hugged, too. But that was still just the beginning. Jackson again turned to the audience.

JACKSON: Who else out here been mad at me I ain’t figured out yet.

Jackson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley have been slapping at each other for a long time.

The congressman criticizing the mayor in the press, and threatening to run against him.

Jackson hadn’t even looked at Daley who was sitting right next to him and then, just like that, Daley tugged on Jackson sleeve, stood up, and hugged him.

The cameras flashed, people around the room looked at each other in disbelief.

And after the hug was over, Jackson turned his back to the podium, crying and wiping tears from his face.

Struggling to collect himself. But there was still a bigger hug on the way.

JACKSON: I’m not going to be satisfied until I see Rod Blagojevich give Michael Madigan a hug.

Okay. We need to pause here.

Because out of all the bad relationships in Illinois politics, House Speaker Madigan and Governor Rod Blagojevich arguably have the very worst.

They call each other names, they don’t trust each other, they sabotage each other. Lately, they won’t even sit in the same room together.

There then there they were, hugging.

After it was all over, Jackson talked to reporters.

They asked whether he had planned the whole incident. Jackson said it was complete unplanned.

Cynics could wonder whether Jackson, whose family has connections to Michelle Obama’s, had planned the stunt to blunt stories about the poisonous relationships in Barack Obama home delegation.

They could wonder whether all the hugging actually meant anything.

But for those who watched, it all seemed genuine.

Shortly after everyone left, Jackson and Blagojevich were seen on the street, hugging.

From the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I’m Ben Calhoun, Chicago Public Radio.

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