Embattled United States Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. says he’s “anxious to return to work,” but gave no timeline for ending his months-long medical leave from Congress, instead asking for constituents’ “patience” in a 90-second automated call sent out to his south suburban 2nd Congressional District Saturday.
In the robocall, first reported by WBEZ and confirmed by a Jackson family spokesman, the congressman explains he's been undergoing medical treatment to address "several serious health issues."
"Like many human beings, a series of events came together in my life at the same time and they’ve been difficult to sort through," said Jackson, who has been on leave since June and is reportedly also dealing with legal and personal problems.
"I am human. I’m doing my best. And I’m trying to sort through them all," Jackson said.
Jackson, a Democrat running for re-election in November to the south suburban congressional seat he’s held for nearly 18 years, initially was said to be receiving treatment for "exhaustion," though it was revealed later that he was also suffering from bipolar disorder and gastrointestinal issues. Jackson had been recuperating at his home in Washington, D.C., but is in the process of returning to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he'd earlier received treatment, according to a source close to the Jackson family.
In addition to his health problems, Jackson is still under a House ethics investigation relating to accusations that he orchestrated a pay-to-play scheme aimed at getting a U.S. Senate seat appointment from imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Jackson has denied that, and has not been charged criminally.
Just five days before Jackson publicly announced his leave from Congress, a family friend and fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, was arrested on federal fraud and tax charges relating to a kickback scheme to drive business to surgical centers Nayak owned. Nayak was also a central figure in the Blagojevich scandal, though his federal criminal case is unrelated.
On top of his previous health and legal woes, several recent news reports say Jackson is now the target of a separate federal probe relating to spending from his campaign account.
In the robocall Saturday, Jackson did not specifically addresse any of the scandals swirling around him. He said only that his health is improving, though doctors tell him “the road to recovery is a long one.”
“I’m anxious to return to work on your behalf,” Jackson said. “But at this time, it’s against medical advice. And while I will always give my all to my constituents, I will ask you to continue with your patience as I ask to get my health back.”
Jackson did not give any timeline for his return, even though he is up for re-election in just a couple of weeks. He has until 5 p.m. Monday to remove his name from the ballot in time for Democratic party bosses to appoint a new candidate. If he chooses to drop out after that, his name would remain on the ballot but votes for him may not be counted, according to the state election authority.
But Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, Jackson’s wife and congressional campaign manager, has repeatedly suggested her husband will stay on the ballot, even though he hasn’t campaigned at all this election season.
Political observers nonetheless say he’s a shoo-in to retake the heavily Democratic district, where he has repeatedly been re-elected by big margins. Jackson faces Republican Brian Woodward and independent Marcus Lewis in the Nov. 6th election.
The robocall marks the first time many constituents have heard Jackson’s voice in months. Since taking medical leave, Jackson has not granted media interviews or appeared in public, and updates from his office have been few and far between.
Reporter Sam Hudzik contributed to this story.