On Monday the wildest, loudest and likely most interesting race of 2013 will open with a bang, just in time for the holidays. When Jesse Jackson Jr. announced last Wednesday that he would resign from the House of Representatives, a little less than 2 weeks after winning re-election and after almost 4 months of being MIA to deal with his bi-polar disorder the clock began ticking for when his potential successors would start to show up. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has until Monday to announce when the special election will be held (within 115 days) to replace Jackson. On the surface this election is about representation, in many ways the next Representative from the 2nd district will hinge on the public’s attitudes towards bi-polar disorder.
There are two ways to look at the last few months of the Jesse Jackson Jr. legacy in Congress, one forgiving and accepting, the other angry and cynical. Both have to do with how one views bi-polar disorder. One view is that Jesse Jackson Jr. was never a particularly stellar member of Congress. He was living off of his father’s reputation, and was neither a great success nor a dismal failure. His greatest mistake was getting involved in the pay to play scandal with the rest of the Chicago crew, because while he is certainly no more dirty than the rest of the players, he should’ve known that as a black man, and the son of Jesse Jackson he was going to be under increased scrutiny. This cynical view of Jackson, also extends to his leave of absence from Congress and bi-polar disorder. There are some who find his illness to be a tad convenient given the raft of charges hanging over his head for ethics violations. His announcement of suffering from bi-polar disorder yet still waiting around to get re-elected is akin to the old Italian mob boss in the movies who pretends he’s crazy just long enough to be declared mentally unfit to stand trial for racketeering. If you are in this camp then the Jackson legacy is done, and the district will have entirely new leadership that will be as free from the Jackson influence as Obama was when he ran for office in 2008. However there is another take on this story.
In the next few weeks there is going to be a mad dash to run for a seat that seems like an easy job for life for many Democrats in Illinois (and yes Republicans too – it happened to Anthony Weiner’s old seat it could happen here). Whether the seat stays in Democratic hands has a lot to do with what voters believe about bi-polar disorder and the legitimacy of Jackson’s actions over the last year. Let’s just hope that these are informed opinions and not based on stereotypes or prejudice.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.