UPDATE (11:59 a.m.): After this story was posted, Frank Quintero, Ron Burkle’s spokesman, called to say that Congressman Jackson was not staying at Burkle’s home.
Monday’s news that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., the subject of a congressional ethics investigation related to the Blago corruption case and the alleged sale of President Obama’s senate seat, is suffering from “exhaustion” and resting at an undisclosed location, caught political reporters by surprise.
A press release dated June 25 from Jackson’s press secretary, Frank E. Watkins, provided few details: The 2nd District Congressman has been on “a medical leave of absence” since June 10 and is “being treated for exhaustion.” When I called Watkins on Tuesday to ask where the 47-year-old congressman is recuperating, he repeated a line in the press release: “He asks that you respect his family’s privacy.” No date was given for his return to his congressional duties.
I had a more specific question to ask as well. The Sun-Times’ Abdon M. Pallasch and Lynn Sweet mentioned that Jackson might be making a return visit to the Beverly Hills home of “supermarket magnate” Ron Burkle. “Last time Jackson was suffering from exhaustion,” the reporters noted, attributing the information to an anonymous source, “he sought refuge and recharged his batteries” at Burkle’s Beverly Hills house.
Nice accommodations if you can get them: The house, named Green Acres, boasts 44 rooms, 26 baths, and a provenance dating to silent screen star Harold Lloyd and, later, Ted Field, the heir to Marshall Field’s and the Sun-Times.
I asked Watkins if Jackson was staying at Burkle’s home, and he responded, “I have no idea. I’ve heard [Burkle’s] name but I’ve never met him…. I cannot confirm or deny.”
The Burkle reference caught my eye because he was one of the characters in my book about Bill Clinton’s post-presidency. Burkle was one of Clinton’s closest and most generous supporters. In the last two years of Clinton’s presidency, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal threatened to turn both his terms and his legacy to ashes, he sought peace and acceptance and lively company in Burkle’s grand estate—in a private wing that features a guest suite and total privacy.
Burkle also has long ties to the Jackson family that make his house, located above the Beverly Hills Hotel, an attractive refuge. Jesse Jr.’s father, the Reverend Jackson, has served on the board of Burkle’s investment company, Yucaipa, and has been a dinner guest at Green Acres. (Burkle’s companies also employed Jackson’s former mistress, Karin Stanford, at around the time news of their illegitimate child surfaced.) Burkle has contributed generously to Jr.’s campaigns, and the businessman also reportedly helped another Jackson son, Yusef, to secure a majority ownership of the Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship covering Chicago’s north and northwest sides. Yusef’s brother, Jonathan, has the minority ownership. Then there’s Yusef’s investment in Radar and the Burkle-fueled attempts to buy the Sun-Times and the Washington Nationals, among other brand-A properties.
Jackson’s attorney, Paul Langer, assured reporters Pallasch and Sweet that the arrest last week of Jackson supporter and reputed Blago/Jackson go-between, Raghuveer Nayak, “in an unrelated alleged fraud scheme,” had nothing to do with Jackson’s leave of absence. In Congress for 17 years, Jackson easily fought off a primary challenge by former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, and victory this November in the general election is considered all but assured. Jackson has repeatedly denied any inappropriate involvement in asking Nayak to fundraise for Blago in exchange for the ex-gov appointing Jackson to the seat.
I called Burkle’s spokesman, Frank Quintero, to ask if Congressman Jackson is Burkle’s houseguest. No response yet at post time.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune