Jackson blames rising medical costs as reason behind house sale
BY NATASHA KORECKI, DAN MIHALOPOULOS AND FRAN SPIELMAN Sun-Times Reporters September 19, 2012 1:20PM
Updated: October 21, 2012 2:44PM
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s political future again came into question on Wednesday after the revelation that he and his wife had put their four-bedroom Victorian home in Washington, D.C., on the market for $2.5 million.
A Jackson spokesman initially could not elaborate on why the South Side Democrat was putting his house on the market, but Jackson’s office later issued a statement blaming mounting medical bills, presumably from his recent bout with bipolar depression, as the reason behind the sale. The Jacksons took out a $400,000 loan against the house just two years ago.
A campaign spokesman said Wednesday that Jackson was still seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 election. Jackson’s wife has said that her husband will campaign “vigorously” to extend his 17-year tenure in Congress.
But news of their Washington home going on the market opened another murky chapter in the Jackson saga and fueled rampant speculation in Chicago political circles. Possible contenders were already sizing one another up.
Jackson has been on a leave of absence since June 10, initially issuing a statement saying he suffered from exhaustion.
Jackson announced the leave two weeks after he started it. The public statement came at 5 p.m. on the day of the filing deadline for challengers to the seat he’s held since 1995. Jackson was recently released from the Mayo Clinic where he was treated for a bipolar disorder.
“Like millions of Americans, Congressman Jackson and Mrs. Jackson are grappling with soaring health care costs and are selling their residence to help defray costs of their obligations,” a statement released by Jackson’s office said on Wednesday.
Congressmen are known to have top-of-the-line health care. However, it was unclear on Wednesday which insurance plan Jackson may be using and how much of his summer hospitalization was covered by it.
The Wednesday statement did not say whether the Jackson family plans to buy another residence in Washington.
But the revelation did shift the focus back onto the Jacksons as a couple elected to represent Illinois constituencies, but primarily living outside the state.
While Ald. Sandi Jackson was elected to represent the South Side’s 7th Ward, the couple sends their children to a private school in Washington, D.C.
Sandi Jackson is sometimes seen rolling a suitcase into City Hall when she flies in for meetings. She is often absent from meetings.
The couple’s absence from the South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District has not been lost on the congressman’s November opponents, who have increasingly called on Jackson to show up on his home turf, calling into question his public statements about his leave of absence.
“Campaign or resign,” write-in candidate Anthony W. Williams said earlier this week.
Marcus Lewis, an independent, declared Jackson’s tenure as a congressman over. He accused Jackson of taking a leave of absence because he was hiding from an intensifying House ethics inquiry – or federal investigators.
“It’s a sham!” Lewis said of Jackson’s bipolar diagnosis. Lewis added that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk had a stroke but the North Shore Republican still releases video urging action on various issues.
“You all of a sudden are so sick you cannot make a statement? We don’t see Jesse doing nothing.”
Brian Woodworth, Jackson’s Republican opponent, piled on, accusing the Jacksons of holding onto a seat they know the congressman would not be able to hold.
“Whether Jackson drops out now or after the Nov. 6 election is really only political posturing,” Woodworth said.
According to property records, the Jacksons bought their DuPont Circle home in the nation’s capital in 1998 for $575,000. It features two kitchens, four bedrooms, five fireplaces and a roof-top Jacuzzi. In 2010, the couple took out a $402,400 loan against the house from the Wright Patman Congressional Credit Union, property records show.
Jackson’s personal lifestyle has previously attracted the attention of federal authorities.
Jackson’s onetime friend and fund-raiser Raghuveer Nayak was questioned about his paying to fly a “social acquaintance” of Jackson between Washington D.C. and Chicago at the congressman’s request.
After Nayak’s help was made public, Ald. Sandi Jackson admitted her husband’s relationship with the woman caused a rough spot in the couple’s marriage two years ago.
Cook County property records show that since 1999, Jackson and his wife owned a second home free and clear in the city’s South Shore neighborhood.
The Jacksons’ approach of living outside the state is vastly different from another member of the Illinois delegation, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who said on Wednesday he “couldn’t afford,” a house the Jacksons have on his congressional salary.
“Even if I could, I would never buy or live there,” said Walsh, who famously sleeps on an air mattress in his congressional office. “I live in McHenry. This is just where I come to do the people’s business and then I go home.” Walsh said he wouldn’t comment on Jackson because he didn’t know about the situation. “Look, we all represent different districts, we all come from a different place from the country,” Walsh said. “If I lived here and spent more time here, that doesn’t make sense because I don’t represent anybody here.”
As an alderman, Sandi Jackson is paid a minimum of $104,100, plus an expense allowance of $73,000. As congressman, Jesse Jackson Jr. is paid $174,000.
In addition, the congressman has paid his wife out of his campaign fund as a consultant. She has been paid tens of thousands of dollars in the past and most recently, about $5,000 a month. The most recent disclosure report shows Jesse Jackson Jr.’s campaign account paying $20,000 to his wife’s firm, J. Donatella.
If Jackson were to hold the seat until after the election and bow out after he’s re-elected, a special election would have to be called in four different jurisdictions — suburban Cook County, Chicago, Will County and Kankakee County, said Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk’s office.
Ballots for the November election were approved last month and are already getting shipped out to military voters.
“If any candidate were a drop out now, it’ll create problems first, for election administrators and second for the voters,” said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections.
Former state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), a political ally of Jackson, said the “For Sale” sign does not necessarily mean that Jackson has decided not to seek re-election. “That’s a real big jump and a lot of speculation to get to that conclusion.”
Reached by phone, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. couldn’t say why his son put his D.C. house up for sale.
“I have no idea,” the elder Jackson said. “I’m just getting in from Africa. I just landed. I have zero information on that.”
If the younger Jackson were to bow out before the fall election, it would be up to the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, County Assessor Joe Berrios, to decide whom to slate on the ballot.
Reached on Wednesday, Berrios said he had no conversations with either member of the couple about the congressman stepping down.
“She has not talked to me about it,” Berrios said of Sandi Jackson wanting the spot.
Sources said Ald. Sandi Jackson “does not have the inside track on it,” and already, there are people who have expressed interest in replacing Jackson, including Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), state Sen. Kwame Raoul and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, Kurt Summers, who was also chief of staff to Chicago 2016 President Lori Healey until Chicago’s first-round flame-out in the Olympic sweepstakes.
Contributing: Lynn Sweet