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Originally published Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 8:24 PM

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Jackson Jr. illness 'more serious' than initial report of exhaustion

Some political observers and Jackson's Republican opponent questioned why the nine-term congressman would not be more forthcoming about his illness and a possible time frame to return to work to represent constituents.

Chicago Tribune

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CHICAGO — Four months before the election, an aide to absent U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said Thursday the congressman's physical and emotional illnesses are "more serious than we thought" and will require "extended inpatient treatment."

Jackson's camp gave no details about his condition, treatment, location or expectations of returning to work. He took a medical leave June 10 to be treated for what a spokesman said was "exhaustion," but his office did not disclose that until more than two weeks later.

Jackson allies urged patience and tried to rally support for a colleague who has faced four years of scrutiny after being tied to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempt to sell President Obama's Senate vacancy. A House investigation into the matter continues.

Some political observers and Jackson's Republican opponent questioned why the nine-term congressman would not be more forthcoming about his illness and a possible time frame to return to work.

Jackson aide Frank Watkins did not return calls. The congressman's wife, Sandi Jackson, also did not respond to inquiries. His father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said: "He'll be in for a longer stay for more evaluations and treatment of his challenges."

The younger Jackson's initial decision to go on medical leave was publicly disclosed after the window closed for independent candidates to file in the Nov. 6 general election. It also came days after a longtime Jackson friend, Raghuveer Nayak, was arrested on federal fraud charges involving surgical centers Nayak runs.

The House ethics panel is looking into accusations that Nayak offered Blagojevich — before he was ousted as governor — up to $6 million in campaign cash if he appointed Jackson to Obama's Senate seat. Jackson, 47, has denied any knowledge of fundraising in exchange for the Senate appointment. Jackson's lawyer has said the congressman's leave had nothing to do with Nayak's arrest.

Jackson also said in February that he did not violate House ethics rules when he had Nayak buy a plane ticket for a woman with whom the congressman had a secret relationship. Jackson has referred to that as a "personal matter" that he and his wife dealt with some time ago.

Even with the controversies, Jackson showed himself to be all but politically invulnerable in a March primary against his first major opponent, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson. He won renomination with more than 70 percent of the Democratic vote.

Republican challenger Brian Woodworth said voter resentment over Jackson's absence from Congress is starting to build.

"I think there's an obligation to be a little more open and forthcoming," said Woodworth, an associate professor of criminal justice at Olivet Nazarene University. "I would think they would want to be more open ... just to clear up rumors."

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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