U.S.Rep. Jackson being treated for 'physical and emotional ailments'
CHICAGO _ Four months before the election, an aide to absent Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Thursday the congressman's physical and emotional illnesses are "more serious than we thought" and will require extended treatment.
But once again, Jackson's camp gave no further details about the Illinois Democrat's precise condition, treatment, location or expectations of returning to work. The congressman took a medical leave June 10 to be treated for what a spokesman said was "exhaustion," but his office did not disclose that decision until more than two weeks later.
Jackson allies urged patience and rallied support for a colleague who has faced four years of intense scrutiny tied to imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempt to sell President Barack Obama's Senate vacancy. A House Ethics Committee investigation into the matter continues.
But some political observers and Jackson's Republican opponent this fall questioned why the congressman would not be more forthcoming in disclosing to constituents the nature of his illness and a possible time frame to return to Washington to represent them.
The statement from Jackson press aide Frank Watkins said the congressman's "medical condition is more serious than we thought and initially believed," though there was no way to gauge how much more serious since his office provided no description of the congressman's condition in the initial disclosure last month.
"Recently, we have been made aware that he has grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time," Watkins said in the statement. "At present, he is undergoing further evaluation and treatment at an in-patient medical facility. According to the preliminary diagnosis from his doctors, Congressman Jackson will need to receive extended in-patient treatment as well as continuing medical treatment thereafter."
Watkins did not return calls seeking more information. The congressman's wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson, 7th, also did not respond to inquiries.
Alderman Roderick Sawyer, 6th, whose ward includes a small part of the northwest corner of Jackson's 2nd Congressional District, said he was not worried that some of his constituents will be without House representation while Jackson is treated.
"Those of us around here will help out with constituent services," said Sawyer, adding that Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis "will be very helpful in that regard."
Sawyer, who had no insight about Jackson's condition or whereabouts, said Jackson "needs to focus on getting well, concentrate on himself and his family, his wife and his children. Those are the important things now."
David Yepsen, the executive director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, said elected officials owe the voters as much information as possible.
"The statement raises more questions than it answers, and I think if you take him at his word that he has a problem, they ought to be more forthcoming about what's going on," Yepsen said.
"If he were more open and more forthcoming, it might create some understanding for what might be a very genuine problem. In public life, especially if you're a member of Congress when Congress is in session voting on issues, it raises questions for constituents," he said.
Jackson's initial decision to go on medical leave was publicly disclosed after the window closed for independent candidates to file in the Nov. 6 general election. It also came days after a longtime Jackson friend, Raghuveer Nayak, was arrested on federal fraud charges involving surgical centers Nayak runs. Nayak has been at the center of Jackson controversies.
The House ethics panel is looking into allegations that Nayak offered then-Gov. Blagojevich up to $6 million in campaign cash if he appointed Jackson to Obama's Senate seat. Jackson has denied any knowledge of fundraising cash in exchange for the Senate appointment. Jackson's lawyer has said the congressman's leave had nothing to do with Nayak's arrest.
Jackson told the Chicago Tribune in February that he did not violate House ethics rules when he had Nayak buy a plane ticket for a woman with whom the congressman had a secret relationship. Jackson has referred to that as a "private and personal matter" that he and his wife dealt with some time ago.
Even with the controversies, Jackson showed himself to be all-but politically invulnerable in a March primary contest against his first major opponent, former one-term Rep. Debbie Halvorson of Crete. Jackson won renomination with more than 70 percent of the Democratic vote.
On Thursday, Jackson friend David Miller named the primary campaign, the "aftermath of the Blagojevich situation" and the "social acquaintance" as factors that may have added up for Jackson.
"I know he had a lot of stuff swirling around," said Miller, a former state representative who joined Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's administration as a health care division chief.
Republican challenger Brian Woodworth of Bourbonnais said voter resentment over Jackson's absence from Congress is starting to build.
"I think there's an obligation to be a little more open and forthcoming," said Woodworth, an associate professor of criminal justice at Olivet Nazarene University. "I would think they would want to be more open...just to clear up rumors."
Also running is independent candidate is Marcus Lewis, a postal worker from Matteson.
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This article was distributed through the NewsCred Smartwire. By By Rick Pearson, John Byrne and Katherine Skiba for Chicago Tribune Original article © Chicago Tribune