WASHINGTON -- Democratic Senate hopeful Cheryle Jackson and I talked Sunday about why she went to work for Gov. Rod Blagojevich as his spokeswoman -- and why she left his administration during his first term when she realized Blagojevich was making decisions "based on personal benefit."
Jackson, who officially launches her campaign Wednesday, is in the Feb. 2 Illinois Senate Democratic primary with two major rivals -- state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and former Chicago City Hall Inspector General David Hoffman.
The biggest vulnerability of Jackson, the Chicago Urban League president -- on unpaid leave for the campaign -- is her association with Blagojevich, now facing criminal corruption charges. Jackson said she wanted to set the record straight.
Jackson joined the Blagojevich administration in January 2003, at the beginning of his first term, leaving her job as an executive at Amtrak. She quit in August 2006 to take over the Urban League.
"Like millions of Illinoisans," she told me, she was excited about Blagojevich's 2002 campaign of change.
"But I left, and I left before the end of the first term. And there was a reason why I left. I left because I was increasingly uncomfortable with the directions that the administration was moving in and the decisions that were being made.
"And those decisions, the direction, was increasingly based on personal politics, politics of personal benefit. And I was uncomfortable with that. And that's not what I signed up for, that's not what I signed up to do.
"So I left, and I left before the end of the first term, and I went to go and work at a place where I could do what I thought I was signing up for, in his administration. I went to the Chicago Urban League, where I could fight for families and could make a difference and serve the community."
Jackson ended up at the Urban League as a result of a Nov. 20, 2005, dinner at Naha, 500 N. Clark, with Valerie Jarrett, now a White House senior adviser, and Desiree Rogers, now the White House social secretary. "I was very much looking to leave the administration." Jarrett told her about the Urban League job.
Jackson said she demonstrated her independence from Blagojevich by publicly disagreeing with him on policy matters.
I asked about Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.
Jackson said she had no dealings with Blagojevich's political operation and only worked the government side. She said she knew only in passing convicted, imprisoned influence-peddler Rezko and Kelly, Blagojevich's onetime chief fund-raiser who died of an overdose before he was to start a prison term.
Her perspective: "What is fair game and what is a more accurate reflection of who I am and what I am about is to look at the Chicago Urban League or any organization where I was the decision maker." To focus on her role as a Blagojevich spokeswoman as "an indicator of who I am and what I would do for the state is nothing but politics."