Brown: Voters had no real choice in Jackson race
BY MARK BROWN November 6, 2012 8:42PM
With U.S, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. dealing with health issues at the Mayo Clinic, his congressional office in Homewood showed no activity on Election Day. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 8, 2012 6:17AM
The polling place at the Mahalia Jackson Apartments, a seniors building in the 9100 block of South Chicago, should have been a prime location to find enthusiastic supporters of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Election Day.
Not only have the residents there long been represented by Jackson in Congress, their alderman is his wife, Sandi.
But I stood talking to voters for more than a half hour Tuesday afternoon before I found even one who would defend their missing man in Washington.
“Even though he’s going through his issues right now, I support him, and I wanted to show that,” said Ella Langford. “I know a lot of people think it’s a sham, but I don’t think so. Everybody has issues. You just don’t throw him away.”
That doesn’t mean some of the others I met didn’t also vote for Jackson, who won handily as expected Tuesday night, only that they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about doing so.
More common were those who expressed frustration with the veteran Democrat for his long absence from work — either because of suspicion that he’s faking his diagnosis of bipolar disorder or that it’s no excuse for how he’s handled matters.
Before anyone condemns voters in Jackson’s 2nd District for failing to give the boot to their embattled congressman, look at it from their point of view: They didn’t have a lot of choice.
Jacquie Johnson, 47, told me she only voted to re-elect Jackson because his opponents were unknowns.
“I think he should be more forthcoming with what’s going on with him,” said Johnson, citing U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk as an example of how to better communicate with constituents during a health crisis.
Then there was Bernice Boukye, 64, who said she just couldn’t bring herself to vote for Jackson.
“I don’t know what’s going on with him. He seems a little cuckoo,” Boukye said. “Every time they get him in a corner, he goes to the hospital.”
I don’t think Jackson is faking it. He’s sick, and in that regard I believe he deserves the same understanding from the public over his mental illness that Kirk has received regarding his stroke.
It’s the overlay of his legal problems — which no doubt are contributing to his mental health issues — that makes it complicated.
Even then, I can understand why voters would stick with him in the absence of not only an indictment but even a specific allegation of what he did wrong.
We are told Jackson is under investigation for misusing campaign funds for personal benefit, and while I don’t have any trouble believing it, we’ve been given no details, let alone shown any proof.
Likewise, many are convinced that Jackson overstepped the law in his pursuit of an appointment by Rod Blagojevich to the U.S. Senate, but the fact remains that he has never been accused of trying to buy the seat that the governor was convicted of trying to sell him.
There really is no comparison with the situation of former state Rep. Derrick Smith, who is awaiting trial after being caught on tape accepting a $7,000 bribe and whose election loomed as one of Tuesday’s biggest travesties.
If Jackson had been indicted (and there are indications he will be), the outcome might have been different Tuesday, although it should be noted that Jackson’s predecessor as 2nd District congressman, Mel Reynolds, won re-election while under indictment.
Reynolds was unopposed. Jackson had no serious opponent, at least none that Cook County Democrats could be expected to take seriously.
Next time? There won’t be a next time.