WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the ambitious political heir to a powerful Chicago family whose once promising future collapsed amid federal ethics investigations and a diagnosis of mental illness, resigned Wednesday from the congressional seat he held for 17 years.
The Illinois Democrat's downfall represents perhaps the last major political casualty in the corruption scandal that sent former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison in March on charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat of President Barack Obama.
Mr. Jackson's political star was on the rise until allegations surfaced in late 2008 that his supporters offered to raise as much as $6 million for Mr. Blagojevich in return for the governor appointing Mr. Jackson to the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect. Though Mr. Jackson was never charged in that case, a House ethics panel investigation into his actions was ultimately eclipsed by a federal criminal probe based in Washington, D.C., into alleged misuse of campaign dollars.
Mr. Jackson's resignation letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was his first acknowledgment of the ongoing federal corruption investigation.
"I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are my mistakes and mine alone," Mr. Jackson said in the two-page letter. "None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties, and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right."
Mr. Jackson's Washington legal team, which recently added former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, a Chicago partner at Winston & Strawn LLP, indicated that while Mr. Jackson's political fate has been settled, there's more to come in a court of law. "We hope to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter, but the process could take several months," they said in the statement.
Despite admitting "my share of mistakes," Mr. Jackson said his deteriorating health -- and treatment for bipolar depression -- kept him from serving as a "full-time legislator" and was the reason for his resignation.
Mr. Jackson's decision to step down came little more than two weeks after his re-election to another two-year term, despite a lack of campaigning. He disappeared from the public eye in June after taking a medical leave from the House for what aides initially described as exhaustion.
Mr. Jackson, 47, formed a political tag-team with his wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson, who over the years has received hundreds of thousands of dollars as a paid political consultant to her husband. Despite her Chicago City Council role, the couple maintained an upscale home in Washington and sent their children to school there. Sandi Jackson has refused to discuss her husband's political future or this campaign-spending investigation. She couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Mr. Jackson's resignation immediately launched a field of possible successors -- to be nominated and elected in special elections early next year -- that could involve more than a dozen Democratic contenders, some of them political has-beens and others up-and-comers representing a new generation of leadership.
Under state law, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has five days to set dates for primary and general elections, which must be held by mid-March.
Mr. Jackson's decision to leave office brought to an end a months-long, consuming political game over the congressman's ability to serve his constituents. In his public absence during the re-election campaign, both his father, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., and Sandi Jackson sought to maintain the family's political power by offering generic statements about his health, thanking voters for their prayers and promising a return to Congress when his health permitted.
Alderman Carrie Austin, whose far South Side ward is in Mr. Jackson's district, said she wasn't surprised that he stepped down but was disappointed with him for misleading his constituents. "He's lost the love and concern of the residents in his district," she said. "We gave him the benefit of the doubt because of his sickness, and it didn't have anything to do with that."
Mr. Jackson was first elected to Congress in 1995 in a special election to replace former Rep. Mel Reynolds, who was convicted on charges including sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old campaign aide and federal bank fraud.
In Washington, Mr. Jackson steadily moved up the ladder in a chamber where seniority is a valued commodity to become Illinois' lone representative on the House Appropriations Committee. At home, he began building a local political organization in the South Side and south suburbs, an operation that successfully supplanted the once-powerful Shaw brothers, twins Bill and Bob, who held various posts.nation