Commentary: The Disappointing Timing of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Resignation

The Illinois congressman and namesake of the civil rights leader should have done this long ago.

Posted: 11/21/2012 06:48 PM EST
Jesse Jackson Jr.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has resigned from the House of Representatives. The question is why he didn’t do it sooner.

Jackson won the general election for his congressional seat following a fall campaign season where the incumbent congressman was barely seen in his Chicago-area district. For months he has been an absentee congressman.

Jackson, the son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr., has been undergoing months of treatment for bipolar disorder. He has been treated at the Mayo Clinic and other health facilities. He is also under federal investigation for allegedly using campaign funds for purchases for his home.

Nonetheless, he marched forward in his re-election campaign this year.

In spite of being under investigation for possible ethics violations, he survived a strong challenge in the March Democratic primary from Debbie Halvorson, a former congresswoman. He defeated his former colleague decisively, garnering more than 70 percent of the vote.

After weeks of unanswered questions about his lingering absences, Jackson’s office reported that the congressman was suffering from exhaustion. After more pressure from the public and the media, his office eventually announced that he had been hospitalized for what is known as “bipolar II disorder,” a condition that his office said was complicated by weight-loss surgery he had undergone in 2004.

Since winning that primary, Jackson has essentially vanished from public view, both in Washington and in his congressional district in Illinois. It was as though the public whom he pledged to serve was entitled to nothing from him, no activity, no explanation and no representation. Despite being a virtual fathom candidate, the congressman stubbornly clung to his seat and he won reelection with a lopsided 63 percent of the vote.

Of course, anyone suffering from health challenges should have time to recuperate properly, to undergo a sufficient period of mending.

But what Jackson did was to largely ignore being transparent with the people who elected him until the pressure became too intense. Moreover, he treated for too long the congressional seat as though it was a birth right. The public deserves to have competent, engaged and active representation.

Now there will be a special election to fill his seat, a costly use of taxpayer money that could easily have been avoided. Everyone should wish the now-former congressman well in dealing with his health challenges and that he is afforded fairness in the ethics investigation.

But it’s difficult not to wish that Jackson has made different choices. It would have been far more palatable if he had been more forthcoming about his condition and, more important, if he had given higher priority to the needs of the people of his district much sooner.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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