Special Election To Fill Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Seat

Just 15 days after voters re-elected him, Jesse Jackson Jr. said health problems were keeping him from doing his job. He also acknowledged he is under federal investigation. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has to set a date for a special election by Monday, and the vote must be held within 115 days.

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Just over two weeks after voters reelected him to a ninth term in Congress, Chicago Democrat Jesse Jackson, Jr. is stepping down, likely ending a once-promising political career. In a two-page resignation letter, Jackson cited health problems he said are keeping him from doing his job. But Jackson also acknowledged he is under federal investigation, and as NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago, that disappoints some of Jackson's constituents.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Speculation about the political future of Jesse Jackson, Jr. has been swirling for months, ever since the 47-year-old congressman took an extended medical leave of absence in June. His office later revealed Jackson was being treated for depression and bipolar disorder.

In his resignation letter, Jackson says his health problems and treatment are incompatible with service in the House. The constituents of Illinois second district deserve a full-time legislator, Jackson says, something I cannot be for the foreseeable future.

REPRESENTATIVE DANNY DAVIS: I think it's a sad day, quite frankly, for America.

SCHAPER: Chicago Democratic Congressman Danny Davis calls his friend and colleague Jackson a bright, articulate politician who delivered for his district. Political analyst and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington agrees.

LAURA WASHINGTON: Congressman Jackson was very active. He was very vocal. He was very upfront that economic development was his number one priority.

SCHAPER: In his first bid for public office, Jackson won a special election to Congress in 1995. And at the age of 30, he quickly moved out from under the shadow of his famous father, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson. Again, Laura Washington.

WASHINGTON: He was seen as a real comer, both on the policy side and on the political side. People had talked about him running for mayor. People had talked about him running for the U.S. Senate. He had a close relationship with the president. All those things were good for the district, and I think made him the guy to go to on the South Side.

SCHAPER: But Jackson's path took a turn with his pursuit of the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama, the same seat former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is now in federal prison for trying to sell to the highest bidder. A Jackson friend and fundraiser allegedly offered campaign cash to Blagojevich if he'd give the seat to Jackson. Jackson, who said he did want the seat, denied doing anything wrong and was never charged. But the House Ethics Committee was investigating the matter.

More recently, Jackson has come under federal investigation for what sources say involves possible misuse of campaign funds. In his resignation letter, Jackson says he is cooperating with investigators, and he accepts responsibility for his mistakes.

In this parking lot outside a grocery store in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood Wednesday night, shoppers pushed carts weighted down with what will soon be Thanksgiving dinner, and paused to reflect on their congressman's resignation.

SCOTT THOMPSON: I'm not surprised, actually.

SCHAPER: Scott Thompson has watched Jackson's problems mount.

THOMPSON: He's going through it right now, you know. Spotlight's on him, you know. And he's obviously done some things that maybe he should not have done. So it was probably best for him to step down.

SCHAPER: Others are more sympathetic, especially because of Jackson's illness. Elizabeth Frierson says she's saddened by his resignation.

ELIZABETH FRIERSON: I understand his position, but I wish he hadn't. He has served us well.

SCHAPER: Frierson says she'd have no problem voting for another member of the Jackson family, as Jesse, Jr.'s wife, Sandy, currently a city alderman, might consider running for her husband's congressional seat. But several others will likely run, too, in what could become a political free-for-all. Illinois governor Pat Quinn has to set a date for a special election by Monday. And the vote must be held within 115 days.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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