If the Jacksons want to keep the seat in the family, as many believe they do, Sandi Jackson would seem to be the most logical candidate. She is already an elected official, and she had been prepared to take over the seat if Jesse Jr. had received the Senate appointment in 2008. But Sandi has long had a difficult relationship with the rest of her husband’s family. “They’ve never liked her from day one,” Delmarie Cobb, who was working for Reverend Jackson when Jesse Jr. and Sandi met in 1988, says. “They beat him up all the way down the aisle.” Initially, the Jacksons objected to their son’s choice of a spouse because she was a child of divorce. As time went on, they disapproved of Sandi because they believed she was a meddler: It was originally her idea that Junior should run for Congress, and, over the years, Jackson’s campaigns have paid Sandi more than $400,000 in political consulting fees.
All of which is why, according to multiple Chicago politicos, the Jackson family wouldn’t support Sandi’s candidacy. Instead, the family, and Jackie Jackson in particular, has been privately pushing Jesse Jr.’s younger brother Jonathan—a businessman who, in recent years, has occupied the aide-de-camp role for his father that Jesse Jr. once performed—as their preferred successor. “It’ll be Jonathan Jackson against some Establishment candidate,” the Chicago Democratic strategist predicts.
For the moment, though, the seat is still Jesse Jr.’s. A decade ago, Jackson and his advisers had penciled in 2012 as the year he might run for the White House. “I told him if we stayed steady on the case that we could change America,” Frank Watkins recalls. “His message was bigger and broader than his dad’s. They were talking about him the way they talk about Barack now. He was going to be the first black president.”
Instead, Jackson now finds himself campaigning for reelection to his House seat as a ghost. In late October, a few days before he returned to Mayo and a little more than two weeks before voters were to go to the polls, Jesse Jr. released his first public statement since he disappeared in June. In an automated phone call to households in the Second District, the congressman updated his constituents on his condition. “Like many human beings, a series of events came together in my life at the same time and they have been difficult to sort through,” Jackson said in a hushed, hollow voice that lacked its usual rich timbre. “I am human. I am doing my best. And I am trying to sort through them all.”