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MARK BROWN: Jesse Jackson Jr. needs a deadline to fish or cut bait

U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr. (D-Ill.)

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:25PM



Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. needs a deadline to fish or cut bait.

So let’s help set one for him.

December 12.

If he’s planning to plead guilty to federal charges and resign, he needs to stop jerking around the voters of the 2nd Congressional District and get it done by that date.

Why December 12? Because that would save taxpayers some money in replacing him, which Jackson might find a useful gesture to mention when he asks a judge to accept whatever plea arrangement he is reported to be negotiating with federal prosecutors.

If Jackson resigns, a special election would fill the vacancy. The seat can’t be filled by appointment. If he resigns by Dec. 12, that would allow time for the special election to coincide with elections scheduled in suburban Cook, Will and Kankakee counties for April 9, along with a primary on Feb. 26.

While federal prosecutors tend to operate on deadlines all their own, they may be unaware exactly how this would affect us here in Illinois — as the Jackson investigation is being run out of Washington, D.C.

Cook County Clerk David Orr estimates it would cost the county about $350,000 to hold a separate election on another date.

Orr isn’t taking sides, but should a vacancy arise, he’s trying to make it clear that his goal is to avoid a separate election.

Will and Kankakee counties, which encompass portions of Jackson’s 2nd District, also would have added costs. The City of Chicago will be stuck with a bill regardless, because there are no elections scheduled.

If Jackson chooses to stay in office and fight whatever case is brought against him, that’s his right, although as many others have said, he needs to be about the business of communicating that to his constituents.

On the legal front, Jackson hasn’t even been charged with anything. We don’t even know what he’s done wrong, aside from some vague accusation that he has improperly used campaign funds in connection with his Washington home.

It’s not that I have any trouble believing he did something like that, only that I’d like to know specifically what it is before drumming him out of office. It’s the darnedest case I can ever remember — a plea deal before any charges.

And on the health front, as I have argued previously, Jackson deserves as much consideration as U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk. His bipolar disorder should be regarded as every bit as serious as the stroke that has kept Kirk out of Washington for coming up on a year.

Let’s also not forget the people of the 2nd District just voted overwhelmingly to keep Jackson in office, though he didn’t leave them a lot of choice, announcing his medical leave after it was too late for a serious alternative to enter the race.

The problem now, as I see it, is that most gave him the benefit of their many doubts because they assumed he was going to try to return. Instead, right after the election, individuals close to him started letting it be known that he was in plea discussions that will require him to resign.

If that’s the case, he needs to get it done so that the 2nd District can have representation again as soon as is both possible and practical. Congress returned this week with Jackson’s seat still empty and no indication he’s even keeping in touch with his staff.

Jackson may actually have performed a service by not resigning before last week’s election, which would have allowed Cook County Democratic Chairman Joseph Berrios and the other party bosses to pick his replacement as the Democratic nominee.

By waiting, he assured voters of an open election with a full array of choices. There’s no telling whether he was thinking of that, or if he’s thinking of politics at all these days.

Ironically, if Jackson steps down much sooner than Dec. 12, that could create other problems. If and when a vacancy occurs, Gov. Pat Quinn would have five days to schedule the election, which would have to be held within 115 days.

If Jackson were to resign effective today, for instance, the special election would have to be held no later than March 15, also spoiling the hopes of saving the taxpayers some dough — unless the courts agreed to a delay.



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