The two hugged. “It was a very moving day for him and myself. We didn’t need to speak in a verbal way,” Lewis, now 72, recalled Thursday.
The moment seemed rich with possibility for Jackson. Obama’s triumph promised to open opportunities that were specific to Jackson. An Obama victory in November meant an open Senate seat in Illinois for which Jackson would be a front-runner and an African American president could also change the career trajectory of young, black politicians everywhere.
But those events that were supposed to propel him forward are the ones that seemed to lead to his undoing. What followed for Jackson, 47, has been in a political, professional and personal free fall that has left his career in tatters and his political future in question.
Once regarded as a leading candidate to succeed Obama in the Senate and often mentioned as a possible future mayor of Chicago, Jackson has not been seen in public since June 8.
The explanation for his absence has evolved over the past five weeks. At first, aides said Jackson was experiencing “exhaustion” that resulted in medical treatment. The most recent explanation is that he has a severe “mood disorder” that is likely to keep him away from Capitol Hill until at least September. According to a statement from his office Wednesday, Jackson “is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder . . . and is expected to make a full recovery.” Aides declined to say where he is being treated.
Jackson’s leave of absence, which his staff says officially began on June 10, came just as federal prosecutors in Chicago charged Raghuveer Nayak, his former fund-raiser, with $1.8 million in medical fraud. Those charges are not formally linked to “Operation Board Games,” a sprawling state corruption probe run by the U.S. attorney’s office that has led to criminal charges against 17 officials, including now-imprisoned former governor Rod Blagojevich (D). Nayak, however, has been in the cross hairs of the federal prosecutors for several years, as he has reportedly testified that Jackson asked him to raise campaign money for the then-governor in 2008 in hopes that Blagojevich would appoint him to Obama’s Senate seat.
For Jackson’s supporters in Washington and Chicago, these developments have been painful. “This is one of the smartest, most capable members of Congress,” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who serves on the Appropriations Committee with Jackson, said Thursday.
But after a week in which Jackson’s staff has been forced to try to dispel an array of rumors, including one that he is in an Arizona facility being treated for alcohol and drug problems, his friends in the Congressional Black Caucus are whispering that they expect him to resign.