Embattled Jackson Jr. to Stay on the Ballot

Chris Maddaloni/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Chris Maddaloni/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

(The Root) — Despite the recent revelation that Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who hasn't been on the campaign trail in weeks, is being treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., his name will remain on the ballot come Election Day on Nov. 6, a representative for the congressman and his wife told The Root.

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"The campaign is continuing to go forward," said Kevin Lampe, a Democratic political consultant who is working with Jackson on his re-election campaign and serves as an adviser to his wife, Sandi Jackson, the 7th Ward alderman on Chicago's South Side. It's unknown when he will return to work or to the campaign trail.

Jackson, whose district includes a large portion of Chicago's South Side and Southeast suburbs, defeated former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson in a landslide victory during the primary race in March. He is slated to face Republican challenger Brian Woodworth in November.

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Although he is the Democratic nominee, Jackson has until Aug. 24, the certification deadline, to withdraw from the race, Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told The Root.

"He is the Democratic nominee," Menzel said. "He was nominated during the primary. If he does nothing, we will prepare for the November election with his name on the ballot unless he takes affirmative action to withdraw."

George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant who was press secretary to then New York Mayor Ed Koch, told The Root that Jackson's political team and family will try to save his political career. Indeed, black political leaders in Chicago have coalesced and closed ranks around the candidate in an effort to stanch the flow of negative information about the ailing Jackson. Even Mayor Rahm Emanuel has urged the community and other elected officials to give him time to get better.

"I don't know the severity of his illness, but his office still functions," Arzt said. "People in general will give him time to heal."

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Still, before Election Day rolls around, Arzt said, Jackson's team should present him to voters, even though he won the primary by more than 70 percent in the Democratic-leaning district. "They just need to put him out there and maybe say a couple of words," Arzt said. "He can make a statement without going through a Q&A. He could make a statement to the press, and that would be it. No one will say that if he can't represent the district, he should resign. That would be a detriment to that person's career."

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Jackson, known for not missing a vote on Capitol Hill, has not recorded one since June 8, the Chicago Tribune reported. He hasn't hit the campaign trail, either. He apparently went on leave June 10, though his office didn't reveal it until weeks later.

His absence ignited a firestorm of controversy. For days the media tried to determine his whereabouts, while some political leaders called for him to come forward or step down. Rumors spread unchecked, forcing his office on July 11 to release a statement saying that he was being treated for a mood disorder, not alcohol or substance abuse.

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Further quelling rumors, the Mayo Clinic released a statement from Jackson on July 27 saying that he had arrived at the facility for "extensive inpatient evaluation for depression and gastrointestinal issues."

Now it will be up to his employers — voters in his district, such as Phyllis Stinson, a homemaker in the Hyde Park community on Chicago's South Side — to decide whether they will re-elect him while he is incapacitated. Stinson has voted for him in the past and said that she plans to do so again in November. She simply said that she wants to know that he is OK.

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"Whatever is going on, I hope he can overcome it," she told The Root. "If you are in politics, you have to be strong."

As the son of the famous civil rights leader who ran for president, Jackson is acutely aware of the importance of being strong. While speaking at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition conference in Chicago in July, his mother, Jackie Jackson, said that "enormous" political disappointments in recent years may have contributed to his condition, according to the Huffington Post, quoting ABC Chicago.

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"He thought he was going to be the senator — thought he was going to have a chance to run for mayor," Jackie Jackson said. "And young people don't bounce back with disappointment like me and my husband."

Arzt, who said he vetted Jesse Jackson Sr.'s "Hymietown" mea culpa before the World Jewish Congress in Belgium, recalled another prominent case involving an absent congressman — Adam Clayton Powell. But Jackson's situation is different, he said.

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"This is not Adam Clayton Powell going to Bimini," Arzt said, referring to the 1960s scandal that occurred when the Democratic congressman from Harlem absconded to the Bahamian island to avoid paying a slander judgment to a New York woman. The yearslong political fallout ended up paving the way for Charlie Rangel to take Powell's seat. "We're all human and we all have frailties. We have our ups and downs. Jesse Jr. should be given time to heal."

Still, the timing of his absence has raised questions. A House Ethics Committee investigation is pending over allegations that Jackson discussed raising money for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign in exchange for an appointment to President Barack Obama's then-U.S. Senate seat. Jackson has repeatedly denied the allegations, according to the Associated Press.

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Jackson also reportedly directed a fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, to purchase plane tickets for a woman described as a "social acquaintance." The congressman and his wife have called it a personal matter. And just days before Jackson's medical leave, the AP reported, "Nayak was arrested and pleaded not guilty to unrelated medical fraud charges."

Blagojevich is serving a prison sentence for corruption. During his trial in 2010, prosecutors said that one of his fundraisers was prepared to testify that Jackson instructed Nayak to raise money for the then-governor's campaign in order to help Jackson secure the Senate seat, the AP reported. That same witness also stated that he attended a meeting with Jackson and Nayak. Jackson has denied the allegations.

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For now, officials are hoping for a speedy recovery for Jackson, including Joseph Berrios, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and the Cook County assessor. "The chairman wishes the congressman well in his recovery," said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Berrios. "Right now, everyone's main concern is the health and well-being of Congressman Jackson, which should be first and foremost in everyone's mind."

Lynette Holloway is The Root's Midwest bureau chief.

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