Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. ended a career of almost 17 years in the U.S. Congress by resigning his House seat as he battles depression and confronts a federal investigation into his conduct.
Jackson resigned yesterday, effective immediately, in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, saying he’d made “my share of mistakes,” without specifying what he’d done wrong. Jackson, 47, who has been treated for depression since taking medical leave from the House in June, said he was leaving Congress “to focus on restoring my health.”
“I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes,” Jackson, a Democrat, wrote in the letter. “They are my mistakes and mine alone.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Nov. 8 that Jackson is in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors to settle allegations that he misused campaign funds. The newspaper had previously reported that Jackson was under investigation for allegedly using the funds to decorate his Washington home and giving a $40,000 Rolex watch to a female friend.
Jackson’s defense lawyers, Dan Webb in Chicago and Brian Heberlig and Reid Weingarten in Washington, said their client was “cooperating with the investigation.” The lawyers said “we hope to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter but the process could take several months.
Jackson was elected on Nov. 6 to a 10th House term with 63 percent of the vote in his district on Chicago’s South Side. Jackson won a special election for a vacant House seat in 1995 and began serving on Dec. 12 of that year.
He has been on medical leave from Congress since June 10. In response to increasing pressure from colleagues to explain his absence, Jackson’s office said July 27 that the congressman was being treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
‘‘My health issues and treatment regimen have become incompatible with service” in Congress, he said in the letter to Boehner, an Ohio Republican. Jackson said he had tried, against his doctor’s advice, to resume his official duties. “I know now that will not be possible,” he said.
“Over the past several months, as my health has deteriorated, my ability to serve the constituents of my district has continued to diminish,” he wrote. His district deserves “a full-time legislator in Washington, something I cannot be for the foreseeable future,” Jackson said.
William Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen in Washington, declined to comment on whether Jackson is under investigation.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has until Nov. 26 to call a special election for Jackson’s seat, said Jim Tenuto, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections. The election date must be within 115 days of Quinn’s announcement.
“This election will be carried out in a manner that is fair to the electorate and as economical as possible for taxpayers,” Quinn said in a statement.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said she learned “with great sadness” of the lawmaker’s decision to resign when she spoke today with Jackson and his father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr. “His service in Congress was marked by his eloquent advocacy for his constituents’ views and interests,” Pelosi said in a statement.
The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 12 that the federal investigation had expanded to include Jackson’s wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson. Prosecutors were reviewing evidence suggesting that Sandi Jackson was complicit in the misuse of campaign money, the newspaper said. No decision had been made on whether to charge her, the newspaper said.
The House Ethics Committee has been investigating whether Congressman Jackson in 2008 improperly lobbied then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama’s election to the presidency.
Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 of 17 corruption counts including bribery, extortion and conspiracy. He is serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison.
The Office of Congressional Ethics, which referred the matter to the ethics panel, said in a report that there was “probable cause to believe” that Jackson directed Chicago businessman Raghuveer Nayak to raise campaign money for Blagojevich in exchange for appointment to the Senate, or knew that “Nayak would make such an offer.”
Nayak was arrested June 20 on unrelated federal charges of paying kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals, according to a Justice Department statement.
Jackson testified last year as a defense witness for Blagojevich at the former governor’s corruption trial. The congressman told jurors that he didn’t raise campaign money for any candidate except himself.
On the witness stand, Jackson denied wrongdoing, saying that he had refused Blagojevich’s request for a $25,000 contribution.
The campaign for Jackson’s House seat “is very much an open race with multiple candidates. I expect up to 10,” said Dick Simpson, a former city alderman and professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “And it’ll cost at least a million dollars.”
No one has an edge, Simpson said. Sandi Jackson could be a candidate if the federal investigation of her husband does not implicate her, he said.
Whoever runs for the seat is expected to continue Jackson’s 17-year effort to build an airport near Peotone, in the southern part of the congressional district.
“What that district needs most is economic development,” Simpson said.