Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Struggles Weigh Heavily on His Father

Special to Informer | 12/5/2012, 1:19 p.m.

Then, in late 2008, everything began to change.

The investigation that toppled former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich revealed that the younger Jackson may have been involved in discussions about raising money for the governor in exchange for an appointment to Obama's former Senate seat. Jackson ceased almost all public appearances, and a cloud of suspicion hung over him, even though he has never been formally charged with any wrongdoing.

Legal proceedings also revealed that Jackson Jr. had had an extramarital affair, the same type of indiscretion that embarrassed his father almost a decade earlier. Jackson Jr. remained under a House Ethics Committee investigation until his resignation last week and still may face its final report.

Then earlier this year, just after the arrest of a former campaign fundraiser connected to the Blagojevich allegations, Jackson disappeared on a mysterious medical leave, which the family later said was for treatment of bipolar disorder.

While the father won't address the son's legal issues, he said it was difficult to watch his child struggling with the decision to step down, something doctors at treatment facilities in Arizona and Minnesota recommended immediately. He's hopeful his son will recover soon and possibly return to public work.

In Chicago, questions are being asked about what political role the Jacksons will continue to play and whether they will try to influence who wins Jackson's House seat in a special election slated for the spring. Another of the reverend's five adult children, Jonathan Jackson, a Chicago State University business professor, is contemplating seeking the seat. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s wife, Sandi, a Chicago City Council member, has also been mentioned as a potential replacement, though she has remained conspicuously out of sight since her husband's resignation.

No matter who replaces Jackson in Congress, the reverend will almost certainly have to address more questions about his son.

"They're so tied to the hip, and I think that it will paint how people think of Jesse Jackson Sr.," said Holly Campbell, a 49-year-old woman who lives just south of Chicago and has been a longtime supporter of the family.

His presidential runs inspired her to vote. But she's felt something shift in her perception of the family, particularly after the allegations about the former congressman emerged. "I'm disappointed," she said.

The elder Jackson is still busy, but his work often escapes notice. While he's a sometimes-polarizing figure in the U.S., he is greeted in many places, including abroad, as an international statesman. He took credit for helping obtain the release of two Americans imprisoned in Gambia this year, though there was little international news coverage. During a recent protest about job-outsourcing with Illinois workers, Jackson intentionally got himself arrested for civil disobedience. His office supplied constant updates and photographs.

Jackson disputes that there's been any slowdown in his activities. He says he can't keep up with requests for help. Aides say 18-hour days aren't uncommon as he continues almost monthly overseas trips, a regular newspaper column and weekly live broadcasts. He says he's focused on equality and justice, as always, but he approaches things differently now.