After a months-long absence from Congress, embattled U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. resigned Wednesday, and acknowledged publicly for the first time that he is under federal investigation.
“The constituents of the Second District deserve a full-time legislator in Washington, something I cannot be for the foreseeable future,” Jackson, 47, wrote in his resignation letter to House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday. “My health and treatment regimen have become incompatible with service in the House of Representatives.”
Jackson, who has represented the 2nd Congressional District since 1995, has been on medical leave since June. He’s suffering from bipolar disorder and gastrointestinal issues.
In his resignation letter Wednesday, Jackson confirmed publicly for the first time that he is under federal investigation. Several news outlets over the last few weeks have reported that the federal probe focuses on spending from the Jackson’s campaign account, and has expanded to include his wife, Chicago 7th Ward Ald. Sandi Jackson.
Jackson alluded to those legal troubles in his resignation letter.
“During this journey I have made my share of mistakes,” he wrote. “I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are my mistakes and mine alone.”
Jackson is also the subject of an open U.S. 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.
He has not faced charges related to the Blagojevich scandal, and has denied any wrongdoing.
Jackson’s resignation will now trigger a special election for the congressional district he held for nearly 17 years, which encompasses parts of Chicago’s South Side and the south suburbs. Rumors have been swirling for months about Chicago pols who may run to replace Jackson, and his formal resignation is sure to touch off a flurry of jockeying among politicians who want to represent his heavily Democratic district.
Pastor Anthony W. Williams, a political amateur and frequent critic of Jackson, released a statement shortly after Wednesday’s news broke saying he plans to run as a Democrat in a special election to replace Jackson.
“It should have happened a long time ago. But I’m glad it has happened. And now the people of the 2nd congressional district can spend time selecting a person of their choice. And I just want to make sure that they get the best and the brightest, the sharpest knife in the drawer,” said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
Jackson, the son of civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson Sr. hasn’t been charged criminally and has denied wrongdoing. He was once considered a rising star in the Democratic party and a possible Chicago mayoral contender. His wife Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) did not return phone calls on Wednesday.
Jackson handily won reelection against two political unknowns on Nov. 6 without campaigning outside of a robocall asking voters for patience. He did put out a statement after winning that said: “Once the Doctors approve my return to work, I will continue to be the progressive fighter you have known for years. My family and I are grateful for your many heartfelt prayers and kind thoughts. I continue to feel better everyday and look forward to serving you.”
Voters did exhibit patience with Jackson but not everyone in his district cast a ballot in his favor. On Election Day South Shore Resident Melvin Jones said he voted for no one.
“I’m just not understanding the illness, something else is involved in it also. He’s not answering any questions and he’s being real closed-mouth about everything is bothering me,” Jones said.
In the March primary, Jackson also handily beat former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson in the changed district. The 2nd Congressional District boundaries were redrawn and now extend through the south suburbs and past Kankakee.
Jackson sat on the House Appropriations Committee, serving as the fourth most senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. Jackson’s pet project in the district has been for a third major airport in Peotone. In April, he led a “people’s groundbreaking” on a farm field in Will County despite political opposition.
At the site, Jackson said: “Along the way, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said we must convert our enemies into our friends. They are not really our enemies. Dr. King said they just don’t know. So, we’re going to help them over time know. Not only those who don’t know but we’re going to help Rahm Emanuel, who just became mayor of the City of Chicago, we’re going to help him know that the North Side of Chicago doesn’t get to get everything. The South Side and South suburbs deserve to be just like the North Side and Northwest suburbs.”
—Angelica Robinson contributed to this report.