A Family Business in Disarray

Monica Davey, New York Times, November 23, 2012

If there’s a crisis unfolding somewhere, it’s a good bet that the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. is on his way.


For all his mastery at inserting himself into and shaping a story line, though, he appears less sure how to cope with a crisis much closer to home: Mr. Jackson’s oldest and namesake son, Jesse L. Jackson Jr., has vanished from public view, grappling for months with bipolar disorder. He is also the subject of a federal criminal investigation, and he announced on Wednesday that he would be resigning his seat in Congress less than three weeks after he won re-election.

On the topic of his son, the elder Mr. Jackson seems for once to be without a clever phrase to crystallize a situation, and at one point this summer slipped away from reporters through the back kitchen of a hotel. When he has spoken of his son, his words lack their usual staccato sharpness.

“He will get well in time, but it’s not the kind of illness where you can put a timetable on it,” a subdued Mr. Jackson told reporters outside his home here following the resignation. “If you’re bleeding, you get a Band-Aid. If you break a leg, you get a splint. With this kind of internal, unresolved challenge, you have to take the time, and the environment.”

Frank Watkins, an aide to the younger Mr. Jackson since he was first elected to Congress almost two decades ago and a colleague of his father long before that, said, “I see confusion.” He described the father as “not knowing what to do relative to mental health, especially as it pertains to his own son — and kind of at a loss.”

{snip} Requests for an interview with the elder Mr. Jackson went unanswered. And many people interviewed for this article declined to be quoted by name, citing concern about their relationship with the family.

But nearly everyone shared the same impression, that the sure-footed leader of his political family was unable to sway this story line, try as he might.


This summer, the younger Mr. Jackson went missing from Congress. His office explained that he was suffering from exhaustion, but weeks later disclosed that he was being treated for bipolar II depression, a condition that his associates say may have been exacerbated by weight-loss surgery in 2004, which changed the way his body absorbs medication.

Adding to his troubles, federal authorities had started a criminal investigation into Representative Jackson’s campaign fund and, according to published reports, whether that money was used to decorate the family’s home. Last week, Mr. Jackson indicated that he was cooperating with investigators, and his lawyers said they hoped “to negotiate a fair resolution” of the situation.

“During this journey, I have made my share of mistakes,” Mr. Jackson wrote in his letter resigning from Congress.


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