Sandi Jackson talks to the media about her husband Jesse Jackson Jr. Wednesday, June 27, 2012. | Abdon Pallasch~ Sun-Times
Updated: June 27, 2012 9:37PM
Where is Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.?
It’s a question his fellow congressmen are quietly asking each other.
It was a subject of conversation at Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting, attended by his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th).
Frank Watkins, the spokesman for Rep. Jackson who issued the two sentence statement Monday evening announcing the congressman “went on a medical leave of absence and is being treated for exhaustion,” said he does not know where Jackson is.
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi’s office does not know where Jackson is, nor does the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
A few years ago when Jackson similarly needed to get away he turned out to be resting up at the California home of family friend Ron Burkle.
“Nobody knows where he is. Nobody needs to know where he is — that’s OK,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez. “A few years ago my wife was diagnosed with cancer and had successful surgery. I had to take time away from Congress. Our lives are no different than anyone else’s. There are just times when trouble comes.”
The fact that Jackson keeps a very tight circle of close friends makes the secret easier to keep.
Ald. Jackson revealed nothing about the location or status of her husband in very brief remarks Wednesday:
“I think it’s important to say: I love my husband,” Sandi Jackson said. “As a wife my primary concern is that of my children. I just want to make sure that they’re taken care of, provided for.”
Ald. Jackson, a former Democratic National Committee staffer, has admitted to a rough spot in her marriage two years ago after her husband’s friend — who was indicted last week — was revealed to be paying for plane tickets for a “social acquaintance” of her husband so her husband could rendezvous with the woman.
“I want to thank all those people who have prayed for our family, who have helped my husband and myself and my children,” Jackson said. “It’s gratifying to know there’s so much support, and I thank you for your interest and thank you so much for helping us through this tough period.”
She took no questions.
Jackson made her one-minute statement to the press only after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) encouraged her to talk.
She came into the meeting via a back door and waved off the press when she went to the bathroom. As the press massed around the bathroom door to interview her when she came out, Austin and some council security guards came to escort her past the press.
Her fellow aldermen gave her words of encouragement, and Emanuel and Austin told her she would have to face the press sooner or later.
“I think the mayor and I both have gave her a little encouragement,” Austin said. “The mayor came down and talked to her. We said ‘You’re going have to have to talk to them.’ ”
After the meeting, Emanuel said, “I’ve dealt both as a colleague to Congressman Jackson and I worked with Ald. Jackson as mayor. So I’ve dealt with both of them professionally . . . My only conversation has been with Sandi. And that is that she is trying to hold her family together. She is dealing with a very difficult situation with two children. And my thoughts are with her and her family as a whole. And that’s what I care about.”
The mayor was asked whether he believes Jesse Jackson Jr. should do more to explain to his constituents the nature of his “exhaustion” and when he plans to resume his official duties.
“You guys have your job to do — you’re not gonna listen to me,” Emanuel said. “My only caution is: respect them as a family while you do your job. And I told her I was thinking about her as she deals with two young children.”
Though Watkins does not know where Jackson has been these last two weeks, that has not stopped him sending out at least 17 press releases — many quoting Jackson — in the two weeks since he dropped out of sight.
A Jackson friend, who saw him in early June at the Capitol, said he looked withdrawn and distracted, not his usual self.
“I know he has been under a lot of pressure,” said a Jackson friend in Washington, D.C. “He’s been fighting really hard to save his marriage. And he had a tough election. There’s been a lot of stuff.”
Aldermen, many of whom have known both Jacksons for decades, said they were very concerned for the couple. They offered words of support to Jackson during the meeting. Many said they were ready to accept at face value the Jacksons’ statement that he was exhausted.
“I believe him even though we want to say that it’s something else,” Austin said. “These things take not just a mental toll on you but a physical toll as well. I came down with exhaustion in 2010. You remember when we saw Ald. [Burton] Natarus collapse outside the chamber here? That was exhaustion.”
Out in his South Side/suburban district, Jackson’s constituents mulled just what “exhaustion” might mean:
“It could be for real. I have no reason to doubt it but I have my grave suspicions. . . .[Maybe it’s because of] the way he reacted. He went like a child and hid in the closet,” 64-year-old Jay Williams, of Chatham, said Wednesday of Jackson’s reported exhaustion.
As she stood outside a South Side strip mall, Tionda Walls, sister of former mayoral hopeful, William Dock Walls, said, “I think he’s exhausted trying to get himself out of a jam so he can do whatever he can to save himself from the powers that be. He’s trying to save his behind.”
Some of Jackson’s constituents believe he may really be suffering physically.
“He has a lot of pressure,” 72-year-old Elbert Murray said.
But a few of Murray’s neighbors in Rosemoor weren’t so sure.
“We need a voice in this district. Who’s going to represent us?” asked Ben Dupee, 53. “Why is he exhausted all of a sudden when people are going to jail?”
Kevin Baloue, 46, is also worried over the lack of a working congressman.
“If you’re exhausted, you need to be a little more specific of why you’re taking a break,” the business analyst said.
Dr. Michele Bailey, a primary care physician at Rush University Medical Center, said exhaustion can be triggered by a number of different ailments, such as stress, depression and lack of sleep.
“It’s very patient specific,” said Bailey. “We sit with each patient to find out exactly what causes it.”
Dr. Bipan Chand, who specializes in gastrointestinal surgery at Loyola Hospital, added that in rare cases nutritional deficiency caused by bariatric surgery, like the kind Jackson Jr. had, could cause fatigue years later.
Both doctors said they could not comment on what may have caused Jackson’s exhaustion, because they were not familiar with his case.
Jackson, 47, cast his last vote in Congress on June 8. He has missed votes since. He last appeared on MSNBC June 10, the day his leave began.
Jackson’s Facebook page had several first-person postings after June 10th, including a link to a TV interview Jackson filmed the day his staff said was his last before he took a leave due to exhaustion. No date has been set for his return.
“We missed him last week and kind of figured he may have been exhausted,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, also a Chicago Democrat said this week. “We knew that he at one time had some medical attention a few years ago, and so it does not surprise me. The heat may have just gotten the best of him for a little bit. The week before, Jesse was pretty much his normal self, laughing, singing, talking.”
The release announcing Jackson’s leave was brief:
“On Sunday, June 10th, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr. went on a medical leave of absence and is being treated for exhaustion. He asks that you respect his family’s privacy. His offices remain open to serve residents of the Second District.”
The son of the famed civil rights leader is facing a Congressional ethics investigation concerning allegations tied to the Rod Blagojevich corruption case.
Just last week, a fund-raiser and Jackson family friend in the middle of the Jackson saga — Raghuveer Nayak — was arrested by federal authorities in an unrelated alleged fraud scheme.
Jackson was already on his leave by then, and his attorney, Paul Langer, said the leave has nothing to do with the Nayak case.
“I can tell you unequivocally it is unrelated to the arrest of Mr. Nayak,” Langer said.
For the last several years, Nayak has been the aching thorn in Jackson’s side after Blagojevich was heard on tape saying that Jackson’s emissary — Nayak — offered what Blagojevich believed was a $1.5 million offer in exchange for the Senate seat that was about to be vacated by Barack Obama following his 2008 election as president.
Jackson has repeatedly and vehemently denied he authorized anyone to approach Blagojevich on his behalf. Jackson has not been charged in the probe.
“Respect our privacy” was the same request Jackson made via news release in September 2010 when the Sun-Times revealed that federal investigators were looking into Nayak’s claims that Jackson had him pay to fly Washington, D.C., cocktail waitress Giovana Huidobro to Chicago at Jackson’s request.
In a March 2009 interview with the FBI, Jackson described Huidobro as a “social acquaintance,” sources have said.
After the “social acquaintance” story ran, both Jackson and his wife,, asked that their privacy be respected.
In an interview at the time with Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, Sandi Jackson said she had known about the woman before her face appeared on Page 1 of the Sun-Times.
“I’d known about it nearly two years ago because Jesse told me late one night in our home in Washington,” she said. “When Jesse told me about the indiscretion, I didn’t want details. I know what adultery looks like. I didn’t need to visualize it. I needed to concentrate on my kids.
“He said it was over. I was mortified and in agony, but he knew if I found out any other way it would be over. That the only way to save our marriage was to come clean.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman, Monifa Thomas, Lynn Sweet, Natasha Korecki