More Jackson supporters in Congress and the suburbs call for medical disclosure

July 10, 2012

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(AP/file)

There are more calls now for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., to further explain why he's on medical leave from the U.S. House.

Jackson's staff has said the Chicago Democrat is undergoing inpatient treatment for an unspecified ailment. They said it's more serious than they initially thought. Beyond that, details are scarce.

Even some dependable Jackson supporters say his constituents should get more information and soon.

This is only the latest in a string of challenges for Jackson. In the past few years, he's faced an ongoing House ethics investigation, a tie – however loose – to the Blagojevich scandal and an acknowledged marital infidelity.

GOP opponent

Still, he easily won the March primary and in this heavily Democratic district, that primary win all but seals the deal for November. But he does have opponents, and the Republican candidate, Brian Woodworth, said Jackson's constituents need to know more about what's wrong.

"People are going to be more understanding, if the typical treatment for his ailment is going to be two months or three months," Woodworth said. "You got to give them that. You got to give the voters the ability to weigh that out for themselves."

That sort of call is not unexpected from a political opponent, but now some of Jackson's Democratic colleagues are speaking up.

Democratic colleagues

"If there is some medical necessity for him not saying more at this moment, then I will defer to that," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday. "But he will have to soon make a report on what he's struggling with, the physical condition he's struggling with."

And on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez added his voice. He said Jackson has a responsibility to give more information.

"No one here has any reason to believe anything other than he is ill. Nobody has any reason to believe that," said Gutierrez, who endorsed Jackson in the recent primary. "Let's just - why don't we just know what it is? And then we can move forward, and we can know what it is exactly that we can pray for his recovery."

Two other Democrats in Congress from Illinois, Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Danny Davis, on Monday said they are supporting Jackson's right to privacy.

Suburban supporters

The congressan has built a strong bench of backers among top south suburban officials who share his dream of an airport in Peotone.

His fans include Rich Hofeld, Homewood village president. Hofeld said he respects Jackson "so darn much." But he said, "We'd like some more information at this point."

Hofeld declined to be interviewed on tape, as did South Chicago Heights Mayor David Owen. But Owen said, "At some point as a…congressional official, something needs to be said." He hopes a disclosure happens within a couple weeks.

This is not a universal view among Southland officials.

"Certainly because of the concern that we have, we wish that we knew a little more just in order to check to see how he’s doing," said Olympia Fields Village President Debbie Meyers-Martin. "But at this point I'm willing to let the story unfold naturally."

"In time we will know, we will understand. But I think it needs to be on the congressman's time," said Rick Reinbold, village president of Richton Park. "His staff continues to be responsive to the needs of the district. He has my full and unconditional support."

Health privacy

Both Reinbold and another Jackson supporter, state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, bring up a federal law requiring health privacy.

Just because Jackson is an elected offical, Raoul said, "How much one decides to reveal about a medical condition is personal."

Comparisons are being made to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who's been out of the public since suffering a stroke in January. Within a few days, Kirk's staff allowed reporters to question his surgeon at a press conference.

It took more than two weeks for Jackson's staff to reveal his medical leave, and they have shared little information with the public about what the ailment or ailments are.

Originally called exhaustion, the office last week said Jackson has "grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time."

Raoul said, with all kinds of illness, there are potential stigmas to consider.

"If others are jumping to conclusions based on a diagnosis, it can be unfair and that's why having privacy is important," Raoul said.

Missed votes

And, Raoul noted, Second Congressional District residents can always vote for another candidate if they're upset with Jackson's level of disclosure or with the votes he's missing in the House.

In reality, roll call votes in Congress are rarely close. Jackson has missed 70-plus votes this past month and Kirk has missed more than 170 this year. In none of those instances would their votes have changed the outcome.