Congressmen: Jackson Jr. suffering tremendously

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by Sara Burnett

CHICAGO (AP)—Two Chicago congressmen reiterated their support for Jesse Jackson Jr. on Saturday, saying the former Illinois congressman is suffering greatly and needs time to get healthy before he can address the public.

Illinois-House
THANKING SUPPORTERS— In this March 20 photo, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., thanks supporters at his election night party in Chicago after his Democratic primary win in the Illinois’ 2nd District. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush joined about 200 people for the weekly service at Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago. The service included a special prayer for Jackson Jr., and his family.

The Chicago Democrat resigned from the U.S. House this week, citing his battle with bipolar disorder. He also acknowledged he is the subject of a federal probe and said he’s cooperating with investigators. Federal investigators are reportedly looking into Jackson’s possible misuse of campaign funds. He has not been charged with a crime.

Jackson did not attend the service Saturday, and has barely been seen in public since taking a leave of absence in June to seek medical treatment.

After Saturday’s service, Davis and Rush said they have not seen Jackson and don’t know where he is. But they said they understand why he has not yet spoken publicly about his resignation.

“He can’t take the pressure,” Rush said.

Rush said when he and Davis visited with Jackson a few weeks ago, the 47-year-old son of a civil rights icon broke down in tears several times. They said they don’t want others to see him that way.

“He’s suffering under a tremendous, tremendous toil,” Rush said. “And chief among that toil is he says he does not want to be an embarrassment to his children, to his family, to the people of the 2nd congressional district … That’s what he is concerned about.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke briefly during the service and thanked supporters. He did not comment afterward.

Rush and Davis also said they were disappointed that more politicians didn’t attend Saturday’s service. Davis called them “fair-weather friends,” saying when people are running for office or have a problem they frequently turn to Rev. Jackson and Rainbow PUSH.

“My question remains now, when this family is in need, where are they?” Rush said.

Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to soon announce plans for a special election.

Among those expressing an interest: Chicago aldermen, a former NFL linebacker and a defense attorney who represented R&B singer R. Kelly and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

But as the field of would-be successors grows to a dozen or more names—one of whom may be another member of the Jackson family—party leaders and political analysts say a stampede of candidates could pose risks for the Democratic stronghold. Spread the field of candidates too thin, they say, and it becomes easier for a more conservative candidate—or anyone else party leaders don’t want—to pull off a win.

The possibility so worried Rush, a close friend of the Jacksons, that within hours of the resignation he had these words for anyone thinking of running: “Cool your jets.”

“My fear is that there is going to be so many wannabes blinded by ambition … that we could find a tea party (candidate winning),” he said during a news conference. “That would be a travesty.”

Cook County Clerk David Orr said officials want to hold the elections on the same dates as previously scheduled elections for municipal officials, which are set for a Feb. 26 primary and an April 9 general election.

Orr said holding the 2nd Congressional District election those same dates would save money. But a federal judge will have to approve those dates because they do not conform to state law regarding deadlines for petition filing and when the election must be held.

Whenever it happens, the Democratic primary will be the race to win. The district, which stretches from Chicago’s south side to several southern suburbs and rural areas, is heavily Democratic. Earlier this month voters there easily re-elected Jackson, who faced lesser-known Republican and independent candidates, despite the allegations swirling and the fact that he barely campaigned due to a leave of absence that began in June.

Longtime Chicago political strategist Thom Serafin said that makes Rush’s doom-and-gloom prediction of a split field leading to a tea party victory highly unlikely.

Serafin said that because of the truncated election process, candidates who already are in office, are organized, and have shown they can raise money have the advantage. Those include longtime Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, whose ward is in the district, and Alderman Will Burns, a former state representative.

“There’s little doubt based on the district’s history that a Democrat will be elected here,” Serafin said. “The big question is who can organize and ‘show me’ they’re the real deal? It’s much simpler for someone who has been in the game for some time to put that together.”

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson said she is weighing a bid. So is former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who represented another district in Congress for one term before losing re-election in 2010. Halvorson was Jackson’s first credible challenger in years when she ran a spirited campaign against him in the March primary.

“It looks like a lot of egos are jockeying for positions right now,” Halvorson said. “I’m the only one who had the nerve to run against him. They need someone who is going to step in from day one.”

Chicago attorney Sam Adam Jr. also has said he’d be interested. Adam is a recognizable face and name, having represented Blagojevich in his first trial in 2010, when the former governor was convicted on one count and the jury deadlocked on the remaining counts. Adam also was R. Kelly’s lawyer when the singer was acquitted on child pornography charges.

Jackson’s brother, Jonathan Jackson, and his wife Sandi Jackson—who currently serves as an alderman representing a part of the district—also have been mentioned, though neither has commented on a possible run.

Serafin said the Jackson name could draw a strong base of voters to the polls. If roughly 135,000 to 200,000 voters turn out and the field is split between multiple candidates, that base could be enough, he said.

Among the other possibilities are Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state senator-elect Napoleon Harris, who played in the NFL and owns two pizza franchises. His campaign aide, Curtis Thompson, told The Chicago Sun-Times Harris was taking the holidays to think about it.

(Associated Press reporters Michael Tarm and Sophia Tareen contributed to this report.)

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