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Secrecy Surrounds Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Illness


On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Now to a political mystery in Chicago. Constituents and colleagues are demanding to know more about the whereabouts and condition of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Junior. Jackson took a leave of absence a month ago, but his office has been vague about why. And that lack of information about Jackson is the talk of the town. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: What's known about Congressman Jesse Jackson, Junior isn't much, but here goes. His office released a brief statement June 25th saying the 47-year-old Jackson was being treated for exhaustion and had been on medical leave since June 10th. Then last week, an only slightly longer statement said Jackson's condition was more serious than previously thought. That he, quote, "had been grappling with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time," and that he requires extended in-patient treatment.

What are those ailments? The congressman's famous father, Reverend Jesse Jackson, wouldn't say exactly, but he told me it is serious.

REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: The crisis is deeper than we thought it was. But the good news, he's under good supervision. He's been in touch with his mother and his wife, and he's on the rebound. To me, that's the good news about it all.

SCHAPER: Jackson, Senior added that there will be more information about his son's condition at the appropriate time. But in Jackson's district on Chicago's South Side, that's not good enough for 42-year-old constituent Lisa Smith.

LISA SMITH: I'm concerned. I would like to know what's wrong with him.

SCHAPER: Do you think he owes it to....

SMITH: The people? Yes. Of course. We need to know what's going on.

SCHAPER: And the explanation of exhaustion?

SMITH: I don't believe that. I don't believe that.

SCHAPER: And Smith doesn't think much of the job that Jackson's done lately.

SMITH: He hasn't been serving the people.

SCHAPER: You don't think so?

SMITH: No. No.

SCHAPER: How so?

SMITH: Look at what's going on. You know, he was a part of trying to sell the Senate seat, Obama's Senate seat.

SCHAPER: That's the Senate seat former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted of trying to sell. The House ethics committee is investigating whether Jackson had a role in the scheme. A close friend of Jackson's offered to raise $1.5 million for Blagojevich if Jackson got the appointment. Jackson has not been charged with any wrong-doing, but that fundraiser, Raghu Nayak, was indicted on unrelated fraud charges last month.

All of which leads 48-year-old Roy Jackson, who is no relation to the congressman, to call Jackson's disappearance kind of mysterious.

ROY JACKSON: Someone that's been going through the things he's been going through, I would think he would want to stay in the public eye and defend himself as much as he can, so sounds a little suspicious, so...

SCHAPER: Still, some of Jackson's constituents are willing to cut him some slack. Such as 47-year-old claims adjuster, Tracy Mitchell.

TRACY MITCHELL: Let them have their peace. I'm quite sure he's been under a lot of physical and mental stress.

SCHAPER: But several of Jackson's Illinois Democratic colleagues say the congressman should be more forthcoming. Here's Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE LUIS GUTIERREZ: I think that he has a responsibility to give us more information. And I'm not demanding that information, but I think the people of his congressional district deserve it, the people of Illinois deserve it. If he's going to stand for re-election, you guys are going to demand it.

SCHAPER: Jackson is running for another term from his heavily Democratic district, and has already won his party's nomination. But with pressure now building, a source close to Congressman Jackson says his staff or doctors could provide more information as soon as today.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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