Kadner: Voters explain support for Jesse Jackson Jr.
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org November 6, 2012 5:51PM
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 6:32AM
Why would anyone vote to re-elect U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd)?
He hasn’t been at work since June, his name surfaced in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat, and he’s undergoing House ethics and FBI investigations.
“I voted for him based on his past record,” said Bridget Lloyd, of Homewood, as she stood outside a local polling place.
“I believe in what he and his father (the Rev. Jesse Jackson) have done for our community, especially for children. They’ve spoken out for the people of this district.
“I know he has mental health issues and that may have affected some of his recent judgments.”
Lloyd added she’s a “mental health worker” so has a particular sensitivity to those issues.
Jackson has been receiving treatment for a bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic and has not campaigned at all, except for robocalls and mailings.
“What people don’t understand,” Lloyd said, “is that people suffering from mental ailments can be very intelligent. I can tell you that some of my patients are very intelligent.”
Keith Kemp, of Chicago Heights, is another Jackson constituent who cast a ballot for the congressman Tuesday.
“I think his office has excellent constituent services, and I’ve used it several times over the years,” Kemp said.
A former president of the National Alliance for Mental Illness-South Suburbs, Kemp said he believes a recovered Jackson could play a major role as a spokesman for the afflicted.
“He could become the strongest advocate in the nation for people suffering from mental illness,” Kemp said. “People view individuals with mental ailments differently than those suffering from other illnesses, as if somehow they become incompetent because they’re sick.
“But if you are on the right medication and take it, you can function and do your job and maybe even do it better than in the past.
“Chances are very good that Congressman Jackson has been suffering with this problem for years before it was diagnosed, and I expect him to return as a more effective legislator than he was in the past.”
Ree Clay, of Country Club Hills, said she simply voted for Jackson because “he did a good job.”
“I pray for him because he’s sick,” Clay said.
As for the federal investigations involving Jackson, voters repeatedly told me he has never been charged with any crime, never been convicted of anything and may not have done anything wrong.
Not all voters were happy about the prospect of a Jackson re-election bid, however.
“He should have taken his name off the ballot and they should have put someone else on,” said Canessa Baines, of Country Club Hills.
“But since they didn’t, it was either vote for Jackson or someone else who, well, let’s just say I picked the lesser of the two evils and voted for Jesse Jackson Jr.”
As Joyce Daniels stepped out of the polling place at Country Club Hills City Hall, I asked her who she voted for in the 2nd District.
“It wasn’t Jesse Jackson,” Daniels said. “I’m tired of all his political games and it’s time he faced the music.”
“For the first time in my life I voted for a Republican,” said a Flossmoor woman who refused to give me her name.
“This is a needy district and we need someone in that spot who will fight for the people here.
“I liked what he represented when he first came into office. I think he worked hard.
“I sympathize with his personal problems, but this whole situation has been bungled and he has failed to explain himself to the voters,” she said.
Herb Guenter, of Homewood, expressed similar sentiments.
“I voted against him, mainly responding to what’s happened over the last several months,” Guenter said.
“I mean, initially, before they told us he was seeking treatment, we didn’t even know if he was in this country or somewhere else. He just disappeared.
“I voted for Jackson in the past, but now ... what’s the word I’m looking for ... I’m totally disappointed by his actions. He appeared to be a sincere person. But it didn’t turn out that way.”
I have heard many people imply over the last few weeks that if Jackson is re-elected it would somehow demonstrate that voters in Chicago and Cook County are knuckleheads who would elect any Democrat, even one scarred by scandal and absent from work.
It’s easy to accept that theory based on the number of knuckleheads Cook County voters have elected.
But all the people I spoke with face to face seemed thoughtful.
A few admitted they had heard conjecture that Jackson might be feigning illness to avoid prosecution in the future, but most dismissed that as unfounded speculation.
Among those who indicated they were voting for someone other than the congressman, there was a real sense of loss; a feeling that Jackson had failed to fulfill the promise of his youth.
Jackson’s district has expanded and now reaches from Chicago through the south suburbs of Cook County into Will County and down into Kankakee County.
I doubt his new downstate constituents have much appreciation or sympathy for Jackson.
But there are many voters who still believe in him.
Although Jackson was always a likeable person, I don’t pretend to understand the hold he still has on voters.
It’s a matter of faith, I suppose, which is often the opposite of reason.