Jump over the site's section navigation.

More calls for Jesse Jackson Jr. illness disclosure

Wed, 11 Jul 2012 04:17:28 CDT
By: IPR's Sam Hudzik

More calls for Jesse Jackson Jr. illness disclosure There are more calls for Congressman Jesse Jackson, Junior, to further explain why he's on medical leave from the U-S House. Jackson's staff says the Chicago Democrat is undergoing inpatient treatment for an unspecified ailment. They say it's more serious than they initially thought. Beyond that, details are scarce. Now, even some dependable Jackson supporters say his constituents should get more information, and soon. IPR's Sam Hudzik reports.

This is only the latest in a string of challenges for Congressman Jackson. In the past few years, he's faced an ongoing House ethics investigation, a tie - however loose - to the Blagojevich scandal and an acknowledged marital infidelity. Still, he easily won the March primary and in this heavily Democratic district, that primary win all but seals the deal for November. But he does have opponents, and the Republican candidate, Brian Woodworth, says Jackson's constituents need to know more about what's wrong.

WOODWORTH: People are more understanding...the ability to weigh that out for themselves.

That sort of call is not unexpected from a political opponent, but now some of Jackson's Democratic colleagues are speaking up. U-S Senator Dick Durbin.

DURBIN: If there is some medical necessity for him not saying more at this moment, then I will defer to that. But he will have to soon make a report on what he's struggling with - the physical condition he's struggling with.

And, Congressman Luis Gutierrez added his voice. He says Jackson has a responsibility to give more information.

GUTIERREZ: No one here has any reason to believe anything other than he is ill. Nobody has any reason to believe that. Let's just - why don't we just know what it is? And then we can move forward, and we can know what it is exactly that we can pray for his recovery.

Jackson has built a strong bench of support among top south suburban officials who share his dream of an airport in Peotone. His fans include Rich Hofeld, Homewood village president. Hofeld says he respects Jackson "so darn much" but he says - quote - we'd like some more information at this point. Hofeld declined to be interviewed on tape, as did South Chicago Heights Mayor David Owen. But Owen says - quote - "At some point as a…congressional official - something needs to be said." He hopes a disclosure happens within a couple weeks. This is not a universal view among Southland officials.

REINBOLD: In time we will know, we will understand. But I think it needs to be on the congressman's time.

Rick Reinbold is village president of Richton Park.

REINBOLD: His staff continues to be responsive to the needs of the district. He has my full and unconditional support.

Both Reinbold and another Jackson supporter, state Senator Kwame Raoul of Chicago...bring up a federal law requiring health privacy. Just because Jackson is an elected official, Raoul says...

RAOUL: How much one decides to reveal about a medical condition is personal.

Comparisons are being made to U-S Senator Mark Kirk, who's been out of the public since suffering a stroke in January. Within a few days, Kirk's staff allowed reporters to question his surgeon at a press conference. It took more than two weeks for Jackson's staff to reveal his medical leave, and they have shared little information with the public about what the ailment or ailments are. Originally called exhaustion, the office last week said Jackson has "grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time." Raoul says, with all kinds of illness, there are potential stigmas to consider.

RAOUL: If others are jumping to conclusions based on a diagnosis, it can be unfair and that's why having privacy is important.

And Raoul says, 2nd district residents can always vote for another candidate if they're upset with Jackson's level of disclosure...or with the votes he's missing in the House. In reality, roll call votes in Congress are rarely close. In the 70-plus votes Jackson has missed this past month, and the more than 170 Senator Kirk has missed ths year, In none of those instances would their votes have changed the outcome.


Support Your Public Radio Station