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BGA’s Shaw: Rep. Jackson Owes Everyone A Better Explanation

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) talks to reporters on Dec. 8, 2011, about the sentencing of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich a day earlier. Blagojevich was convicted of trying to get $1.5 million in campaign cash from Jackson supporters in exchange for appointing Jackson to the U.S. Senate. Jackson has denied directing anyone to offer Blagojevich campaign cash. (Credit: CBS)

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) talks to reporters on Dec. 8, 2011, about the sentencing of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich a day earlier. Blagojevich was convicted of trying to get $1.5 million in campaign cash from Jackson supporters in exchange for appointing Jackson to the U.S. Senate. Jackson has denied directing anyone to offer Blagojevich campaign cash. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Better Government Association president Andy Shaw says U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) owes the public more answers than he has provided.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports, Shaw says the three-sentence news release explaining Jackson’s leave for treatment for exhaustion, issued two weeks after the leave began, is insufficient.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports

“Congressman Jackson and his staff are being paid with our tax dollars,” Shaw said. “They owe us and his constituents, in this election year, an honest answer to why he is off the job.”

Shaw says he is sympathetic to any health issues Jackson may have. But his failure to be forthcoming is a serious problem, Shaw said.

In particular, Shaw pointed out that during the 10 days before any information was released about Jackson’s condition, his office issued 14 different news releases about other subjects with his name on them.

“That’s disingenuous,” he said.

While U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s office also put out multiple news releases in his name after Kirk suffered a stroke, that situation was different in that the public knew what was happening with the senator.

“The difference is that he had a very overt and clear medical emergency, and his office was clear about the nature from the beginning, and so we knew right from the get-go that he had a stroke and there was strong disability associated with that,” Shaw said. “In Congressman Jackson’s case, we don’t know what this is about, and more importantly, they didn’t say anything for 10 days.”

Shaw also wondered why the U.S. House Ethics Committee has failed to come up with any conclusions about Jackson’s conduct, following allegations linking him to deposed Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s scheme to sell President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

“For two years in Washington, D.C., the House Ethics Committee has been looking at some alleged transgression by Congressman Jackson,” Shaw told WBBM Newsradio’s Sherman Kaplan and Kris Kridel. “Shouldn’t they be able to come up with a conclusion within two years – either clear him or sanction him?”

The Congressman’s wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), issued her first public comments about the situation during the City Council meeting Wednesday.

“I think it’s important to say that I love my husband very much, that’s the first thing,” Jackson said in her first public statement since her husband’s office made an announcement Monday that he was taking a leave of absence.

“The second thing is, as a wife, my primary concern is that of my children. I just want to make sure they’re taken care of and provided for. And we’re just going to continue doing the good work that we’re doing here in the city of Chicago.”

Jackson’s chief of staff, Rick Bryant, told WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore that the family doesn’t want Jackson’s staff to say where the congressman is, and he said he doesn’t know what caused Jackson’s exhaustion, or when Jackson will return to work.

Jackson has been under enormous pressure in recent years. in addition to the Blagojevich scandal and the resulting Ethics Committee investigation, he has been dealing with marital problems over his affair with a restaurant hostess, and a key Jackson fundraiser was indicted this month.

That fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, was a key figure in the Senate seat scandal, and is also at the center of the Ethics Committee probe. Nayak allegedly offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich to appoint Jackson to President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. Jackson has denied directing Nayak to offer campaign cash for the seat, or any knowledge of such a deal.

Bryant insisted last week that Nayak’s arrest on racketeering, fraud, and tax evasion charges was not connected to Jackson’s leave of absence. He said the congressman had planned an announcement earlier, but delayed it after news of Nayak’s arrest.

Dr. Jennifer Earvolino, a physician at Rush University Medical Center, said recently that she takes any patient’s claims of exhaustion very seriously. She first looks first to rule out a physical cause. Often, though, she said stress is to blame.

“Sometimes maybe it is just a need to step back, and kind of re-evaluate, and take some time off, and just get things back in order,” Earvolino said.

Jackson’s staff said they don’t know when he might get back to work.