My Evening With Jesse Jackson Jr.


In May 2012, just before Jesse Jackson, Jr. vanished from Washington D.C., I was on a trip to the Capitol for my congressional campaign. I remember the day vividly because I was pacing in a hot parking lot near a rumbling train track while sirens blared all around. I was on a phone interview with the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, seeking their endorsement. I remember plugging one ear and saying, "I believe in homeownership because I see it as a way out of poverty and into the middle class for Americans." I did, I still do — but I am sure I seemed frazzled, so I'll assume that's why I didn't get their endorsement.

When I walked across the street to meet a union representative for a drink, I heard "Well hello madam congresswoman." I turned to see a very stylish, very trim man in a bow tie, shades, and a straw hat. He was sipping brandy and puffing on a cigar. I looked at him for a minute. As he took off his shades, it hit me: "That's Jesse Jackson, Jr."

I first met Congressman Jackson the year before. It was once, and briefly at that, so it took me by surprise that he remembered me in a town where you don't matter unless you really matter.

He stood right up like a gentleman does for a lady and removed his hat like an old-school gentleman did for an old-school lady. He introduced me to everyone he was with and then took me inside the restaurant. He bought me a glass of wine and spent the next 45 minutes introducing me to the "who's who" of Washington. He never failed, not one single time, to also pitch his $10.00 an hour minimum wage bill. I could tell most of them thought it was a pipe dream but Jesse Jackson, Jr. believed in it and he didn't care how long it took him to move it forward.

I told him he was lucky to come from a well known family. "It's such a leg up," I said. He told me that it wasn't always easy living in his father's shadow and that this was his year to come into the sun. I think he thought the minimum wage bill was a way to do something he was passionate about and that had nothing to do with his family. He was funny, generous, and charming. He was nothing but a gentleman. As evidenced most recently by Bob Filner and Anthony Weiner, both former members of Congress, that isn't always true in D.C. But apparently, Jackson was also in the throes of his own implosion. 

But that's hypo-mania for you. According to a article on the condition, "'Hypo-mania can be a pretty enjoyable state, really,' Dr. Bearden [Carrie Bearden, a UCLA psychiatrist] says. A person’s mood can be elevated, they may have a lot of energy and creativity, and they may experience euphoria. This is the 'up' side of bipolar disorder that some people with the condition actually enjoy — while it lasts."

During my few hours with Congressman Jackson, he was up. A few days later, he was down— way down. Perhaps he will find his center over the next 30 months in jail. Perhaps, in the next 30 months Congress will release its chokehold on scientific research so their former colleague and the estimated 4.4% of their fellow Americans living with bipolar disorder or hypo-mania can find their way out of the shadows and into the sun.