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Despite illness, Rep. Jesse Jackson on track for re-election

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who has been on a medical leave of absence for three months, has put his Victorian-style townhouse in Washington, D.C., on the market for $2.5 million.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who has been on a medical leave of absence for three months, has put his Victorian-style townhouse in Washington, D.C., on the market for $2.5 million.

CHICAGO (MCT) — Battling mental illness and personal financial troubles, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Ill., is a heavy favorite for re-election Nov. 6 despite a surreal campaign in which he has been absent for almost four months.

Jackson, 47, who disclosed this summer that he has bipolar depression and has undergone weeks of hospitalization, is convalescing in Washington and meeting occasionally with aides. He has been absent from the House of Representatives since June 8.

Whether he will campaign at all is in question. His re-election bid is being led by his wife, Sandi Jackson, who turned down interview requests.

Chicagoan Kevin Lampe, who is serving as a spokesman for the Jackson campaign, said Thursday that the lawmaker remained under medical care. “As soon as the doctors say he can get back to work, he’ll get back to work, which includes campaigning,” said Lampe, noting that voter registration efforts were under way and a get-out-the-vote push was planned.

DePaul University political scientist Wayne Steger said Jackson, whatever his woes, looked like a sure bet to carry the election, which is five weeks away. Steger points to the nominal opposition, the GOP’s weak organization in Cook County and anticipation of a robust turnout by Democrats who aim to return President Barack Obama to the White House.

The new 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs into Will and Kankakee counties, is deep blue. More than 80 percent of the voters there cast ballots for Obama in 2008.

Jackson’s two rivals on the ballot are running hard but uphill, lacking both name recognition and campaign cash.

Republican challenger Brian Woodworth, 41, says he is getting no financial help from the national GOP and has spent only $11,000. Independent Marcus Lewis, 53, says he expects his campaign to cost $3,500. Jackson, according to his most recent report, had nearly $250,000 in campaign money at his disposal.

Political scientist Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois at Chicago agrees that Jackson’s electoral prospects are strong, citing the goodwill he’s built up in office.

But that goodwill has its limits. Across the street from Jackson’s district office, 18-year-old Kya Hart made plain that she’s not sympathetic about his bipolar disorder.

“If he were to get angry about something or change his mind (about an issue), that could mess up the community,” said Hart, a student at Truman College who hopes to join the Army.

But others support the congressman. Jonnita Dockens, a 39-year-old event planner, said she’s known Jackson and his father, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, for years and has done work for the elder Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“It was a smart decision for him to take a leave of absence, because at some point you have to know when you have to step away from the job,” said Dockens, who plans to vote for his re-election.

She was not swayed as challenger Lewis tried to sell himself to her and other patrons at a local Starbucks, handing out business cards promising: “Help is on the way!”

Though some constituents were willing to give Jackson time to recover, Lewis was not.

“The public has been sucked into this sympathy campaign that he’s got going on,” Lewis said. “This has been going on since June. And it’s unfair to constituents, because they have no representation whatsoever.”

Jackson was treated for weeks at Sierra Tucson in Arizona and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. A Jackson aide announced Sept. 7 that the congressman, who has homes in Chicago and Washington, was back in the nation’s capital. The lawmaker stopped in Chicago to visit his parents en route to Washington, a Jackson source said.

The Jacksons’ Washington town house was put up for sale recently with an asking price of $2.5 million. An aide issued a statement saying the Jacksons were “grappling with soaring health care costs” and were selling the property “to help defray costs of their obligations.”


(Dan Hinkel of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.)

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