Eaton: Jackson’s illness the X factor in 2nd Congressional District
By Fran Eaton August 3, 2012 6:50PM
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:08AM
The media are justifiably curious about U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr’s secretive medical leave, his staff’s tight-lipped responses and the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the 17-year congressman.
A week ago, the Mayo Clinic solved part of the mystery when it announced that Jackson was being treated there but raised more questions by describing his maladies as “depression and gastrointestinal issues.” Jackson’s famous father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, raised more questions when he told reporters his son’s condition was a “game changer.”
Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) is undergoing an ethics investigation by the U.S. House as to whether he offered to raise up to $6 million for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund in exchange for being appointed to fill Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. Jackson has strongly denied the story by Raghuveer Nayak, a friend and major fundraiser for Jackson, that Nayak was directed to be an intermediary and present the proposal to Blagojevich.
Despite the alleged scheme and an embarrassing revelation that Nayak paid for airfare so a Washington, D.C., restaurant hostess could visit the married Jackson on the QT, Jackson easily won the March Democratic primary in the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which has changed to include some new constituents with whom Jackson has little influence.
Jackson has been treated for his illness for seven weeks, and there’s no indication when it will end. But it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. Neither he nor his staff appear to be concerned about him losing his seat in November.
In 2008, 90 percent of the voters in the 2nd District, covering Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, supported Barack Obama for president. In the Republican sweep of 2010, Jackson was re-elected with 85 percent of the vote. Even with the new map extending the district all the way to Kankakee County, the 2nd District is still 63 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic.
So why would the Republican candidate, Brian Woodworth, until recently an associate professor of criminal justice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, get in a race that’s so clearly stacked against him?
“Some people would say it’s courageous, some would say crazy,” Woodworth said. “Take the name Brian Woodworth — a Celtic/English name, a white who’s running against a man by the name of Jesse Jackson Jr., the son of a civil rights leader that stood with Dr. (Martin Luther) King, in a predominantly black district. Why would I have any inkling that I have a chance?”
He said the 2nd District election is not about race, political philosophy nor ideology. It comes down to business.
“I don’t look at a person and say, ‘That’s a black guy, that’s a white guy, I’ve grown up not to do that,” Woodworth told me. “It used to be about black and white, but now it’s about black and red. And that’s how a businessman sits down and says ‘if the bottom line is red, we need to cut costs. If it’s black, is it enough? And if it’s not enough, what can we do to increase the numbers?’ ”
During the interview, Woodworth made only one critical comment about his opponent.
“Jackson boasts about bringing millions of federal dollars into the district, but what is that money used for?” he asked. “Building fire stations, schools and local community projects. If Jackson was focused on pro-growth, job-producing policies, those local communities would be able to use their own revenue for such projects, and federal dollars wouldn’t be needed.”
He also emphasized that the federal funds that Jackson has brought home on occasion are drying up.
Woodworth said he would do more to help and encourage businesses to locate in the district and is trying to deliver in a positive way the message that people need to become more independent from the government.
“One of the biggest problems that Republicans have had in the district is that they historically have said, ‘End subsidized housing, end welfare, end every sort of social assistance program, get rid of the social net,’” he said. “I am not saying everyone in the district is on social welfare programs, but there are many, especially on the South Side. The Republicans lose their initiative when they begin talking about taking away programs like that.”
Woodworth is married, the father of three, a Bourbonnais resident and oozes Republican ideals. He’s not for a third major airport because he’s not convinced it would be used as much as airport supporters say. He believes in cutting taxes and eliminating business-smothering regulations to dramatically change the district’s depressed economic scene.
Let’s hope that Jackson gets well enough to participate in some debates with Woodworth before the Nov. 6 election. Not only would Woodworth benefit from such exposure, it would allow him to share his message with 2nd District voters and show the sharp contrast between the two men’s political views.
For the first time in a long time, we might have a congressional election that treats the people of the 2nd District with the respect they deserve and should demand from their congressional representative. That alone would be game changing.
Fran Eaton is a Southland resident who co-founded and edits the conservative political blog, illinoisreview.com.