Jesse Jackson Jr. needs to tell his constituents what is going on
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org July 11, 2012 9:06PM
Then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (right) with his wife, Sandi, at a birthday party for his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, at the South Shore Cultural Center in October 2006. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:43PM
It pays to be royalty.
What other elected official would get the consideration that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is getting?
Jackson has been MIA for weeks with some undisclosed ailment, secluded at some unknown location, and just about everyone is tip-toeing around the fact that his disappearance is beyond strange.
It is an extreme dereliction of his duties.
Yet there is a downside for Jackson. The protracted secrecy is fueling a lot of speculation about the congressman’s future.
On Wednesday, his office released yet another brief statement, this one revealing that he is being treated for an unspecified mood disorder. But it offered no details and raised even more questions.
“The Congressman is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder,” according to an unnamed physician. “He is responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery.”
But the statement began by quoting federal laws protecting a patient’s privacy.
“The name of the attending physician and treatment center will not be disclosed in order to protect his continuing privacy,” the statement read.
But those laws should not be used to give an elected official cover to withhold information. Jackson’s duty is to be transparent and keep his constituents informed about anything that could affect the job they elected him to do.
Additionally, if he has a medical or psychological problem with a some stigma attached to it, then discussing it publicly can help erase that stigma.
Instead, by being secretive, he is just perpetuating the stigma.
And that serves no one.
The media didn’t even find out Jackson had a problem until June 25 when his office disclosed that Jackson was suffering from “exhaustion,” and by then he had been on leave of absence for two weeks.
Last week, Jackson’s long-time family friend, Frank Watkins, told reporters that the congressman is being treated at an “in-patient medical facility,” and that doctors said he “will need to receive extended in-patient treatment” and “continuing medical treatment thereafter.”
That statement was put out nearly a month after the congressman stopped showing up for work. Now, another terse statement was released Wednesday.
The public is left to piece together what is ailing their elected representative with each new shred of information.
Personally, I like Jackson and was saddened to see him tainted by the Blagojevich scandal.
I pray he is getting the help he needs.
But can you imagine what would have happened had U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk been as secretive after his stroke?
There would have been an immediate backlash from the senator’s colleagues and his constituents, not to mention his political foes.
Yet, all but a few Illinois officials have been mum about this bizarre situation.
Indeed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. swatted reporters for even asking about his son’s whereabouts.
“It’s inappropriate,” Jackson, said when he was asked point blank about his son’s medical condition on Wednesday .
But pressure is mounting. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives have all called for more information.
Soon and very soon, Jackson or someone from his camp is going to have to provide a clear explanation of his condition.
Any talk about Jackson being on his way out would have seemed far-fetched after his primary victory.
But he is still facing a House Ethics Committee probe into whether he had knowledge that Raghuveer Nayak, a fund-raiser and friend, allegedly acted as an emissary in a scheme to buy an appointment to President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
Although the congressman has not been charged with any wrongdoing, his reputation took a hit and he’s kept a low profile every since.
For someone who is used to basking in the light, not hiding from it, Jackson must have chafed at other revelations about his personal life.
And while voters forgive and forget, the feds do not.
Last week, Nayak was arrested on fraud charges unrelated to the Blagojevich scandal. Although an attorney for Jackson said the congressman was on leave before Nayak’s arrest, the unfolding drama only leads to more speculation.
The Jackson clan is too media savvy not to know that this story is not going away.
But the afflictions of famous people have often been used to help erase stigmas associated with illnesses.
Whatever the problem, Jackson’s colleagues and the community he has served will likely continue to support him and his family.
But the price of royalty is duty.
Jackson’s constituents shouldn’t have to wade through a storm of speculation to get to the truth about what has sidelined their champion.