It’s been more than 3 months since Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. took a leave of absence from Congress to deal with depression and related physical ailments. Now, with the election 5 weeks away, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Congressman may never return to his seat, even if he wins re-election, as he is expected to with ease.
His home in Washington is for sale. His wife says he’ll come back to work only when a doctor approves. He vowed to return to the campaign by Labor Day, and then didn’t.
Election Day is five weeks away, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. remains out of sight.
It’s an absence, both from his job in Congress and his campaign, that’s starting to test patience in his Chicago hometown.
More than three months have passed since Jackson, a 47-year-old Democrat first elected in 1995, dropped out public sight. It was later revealed that he was hospitalized for severe depression and gastrointestinal problems. There have been few updates on his condition and no hard answers to questions about his future.
Jackson’s name remains on the ballot, even though he’s yet to make a campaign appearance since last spring’s primary. His wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, insists she won’t step in to take his place.
“You ask anyone in this district, which one of them could take 90 days off of work?” said Jackson’s Republican opponent, Brian Woodworth. The college professor is running in a mostly South Side district that’s heavily Democratic.
“Voters should be paying attention to this,” Woodworth said. “For the last three months, almost four, he’s ignored them. He’s hidden from the press. He’s ignored the people. He’s neglected his job.”
The criticism isn’t only coming from the GOP. Editorial writers who urged patience weeks ago now are urging Jackson to explain his intentions. In his district, constituents who have expressed a range of reactions to his absence are growing more anxious to hear from him.
Jacques Whatley, a 39-year-old mother, said she’s voted for Jackson in the past but her views have turned as weeks have gone by without any word from the congressman.
“When there are situations like this, we need to know,” Whatley said. “If he has some medical issues, then he should step down. If you’re in a situation where you’re not healthy, then you need time off.”
Even with medication, depression isn’t something you simply snap out of. A return to normal requires time and most importantly, counseling.
But Jackson is a congressman and owes his constituents proper representation. He also owes them the courtesy of telling them whether he will serve if re-elected. The fact that he is trying to sell his house in Washington, D.C. would indicate that he doesn’t plan on coming back. He must know that this is the impression he is leaving. Why not make a statement about his intentions?
It is too late to remove his name from the ballot. Because of that, Jackson may be hiding his intent, keeping his options open by allowing his constituents to believe if they vote for him, he would return to Washington. Instead of voting for the Republican challenger Brian Woodward, or independent candidate Marcus Lewis, a Jackson re-election will allow more time for his recovery and possible return. Then, if he can’t serve, he can resign and ask Governor Pat Quinn to name his replacement. This way, he can serve if he recovers, and the Democrats are safe if he doesn’t.
But the Chicago media may not be as patient as Jackson wishes. They may begin demanding answers before election day, in which case Jackson may be in trouble. His wife, a Chicago alderman, says he has finally regained the ability to speak in complete sentences again. This sounds like his depression was more debilitating than we were allowed to believe. If so, the writing may be on the wall that it will be many more months before the congressman is fit to serve.
If that is the case, he is unlikely to serve even if he is re-elected.