Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. urged to explain mystery illness

CHICAGO Wed Jul 11, 2012 1:46pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s month-long leave of absence from his job due to undisclosed health problems has prompted pleas from colleagues for the 47-year-old Democrat to reveal what his illness is.

Jackson's father, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., told a Chicago television station on Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to provide more information about his son's condition. He would only say that he was regaining strength and "going through a tremendous challenge."

Fellow Illinois Democrats said the lawmaker owed an explanation to voters in his South Side district in Chicago. He is up for re-election to a 10th term in the November 6 election.

"As a public official ... there reaches a point when you have a responsibility to tell people what you're facing and how things are going," Senator Dick Durbin said this week.

Durbin and Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois compared Jackson's situation to those of stricken Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois and Democratic Representative Bobby Rush.

Kirk suffered a stroke in January and his doctors held news conferences about his condition. He later provided a video depicting his recovery and showing him speaking and struggling to walk on a treadmill.

Rush had surgery for throat cancer, and Gutierrez said "we knew where to find him."

Jackson's office issued a short statement on June 25 saying he was being treated for exhaustion and had been on leave since June 10.

On July 5 another release said Jackson's problems were more serious than previously believed, that he had long dealt with "physical and emotional ailments" and needed extended inpatient treatment.

Jackson's press secretary Frank Watkins declined comment on Durbin's views. In 2004 Jackson underwent the weight-loss operation gastric bypass surgery, apparently without problems.

"SOME KIND OF DEPRESSION"

"He should be focusing on his health," said Representative Danny Davis of Illinois, a friend of the Jackson family who said he has not inquired about Jackson's ailments.

"I hear that it was kind of serious in terms of some kind of depression," he added.

Jackson's Republican opponent, Brian Woodworth, said he was not "engaging in any speculation" about Jackson's condition. But he said there was an obligation by Jackson's camp to clarify what is going on.

Jackson has been the subject of a congressional ethics committee probe regarding his involvement in an alleged bribe offered to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich by one of Jackson's supporters, Chicago businessman Raghuveer Nayak, in 2008.

The multi-million-dollar offer was intended to entice Blagojevich into appointing Jackson to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Jackson admitted to lobbying for the Senate seat but has denied knowing about any money offered to Blagojevich, who is in prison.

Nayak was arrested by the FBI last month and charged with paying bribes and kickbacks to doctors to funnel patients to his surgery clinics, and then writing off the payments on his taxes.

The congressional ethics committee was also investigating the propriety of Nayak paying for plane tickets to Chicago for a "social acquaintance" of Jackson who is a hostess at a Washington nightclub.

(Additional Reporting By Tom Ferraro in Washington; Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)

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