Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Will Blagojevich take down Jackson?

I don’t know what to make of the candidacy of Cheryle Jackson for the U.S. Senate. About the only thing I do know is that I think the people who want to dismiss her because she has the “Blagojevich” label on her are being a bit ridiculous.

For the record, Jackson in recent years has been head of the Chicago Urban League. Because she is of a younger generation and once worked in the corporate world (Ameritech, for those who want to know), her focus on improving the quality of urban life has been less on social issues and more on economic development.

GET THEM JOBS, and their lives will improve. It’s a sound theory.

Combined with the fact that she will be a black woman running in the race (be honest, race still factors into the electoral equation), it means her candidacy will stand out – even though state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias would like to think he already has the Democratic Party’s nomination sewn up.

If she can find sources of campaign money, she could also feed into the African-American vote on the South and West sides that can be strong when it comes out in force.

She could be a contender, particularly if it looks like Todd Stroger will not be able to get the Democratic nomination for another term as Cook County Board president. There’s a good chance that Jackson could be the most credible African-American candidate seeking electoral office in Illinois in 2010.

BUT WHAT SOME people want to believe holds her back is the fact that in between Ameritech and the Urban League, she worked for Illinois state government.

Specifically, she was on the staff of the Illinois governor. For a couple of years, she was Rod Blagojevich’s press secretary/communications director/flack/public mouthpiece/whatever you want to call it.

What it means is that for a couple of years, when reporter-types had questions of the governor, they called Jackson. When TV types needed a quick answer to a question on camera, Jackson would often do the interview.

While one can argue that the press secretary is nowhere near as important as the chief of staff and his top-ranking aides in terms of setting public policy, the press secretary often becomes the face of that policy.

JACKSON WAS THE person that people saw explaining why her boss did things the way he did.

Will some people refuse to cast a vote for anyone who does not vilify Blagojevich to the same level of hatred that they do? Possibly.

But it strikes me as being ridiculous, and not just because Jackson quit that job several yeas ago to take the Urban League post. To my knowledge, none of the allegations of illegal activity have seen her name come up.

Her successors in the post have had to deal with federal investigators, mainly because it appears the activity the feds are trying to prove is criminal in nature occurred in the later years of Blagojevich’s six-year stint as Illinois governor.

BESIDES, AS I wrote earlier in this commentary, there is something of a divide between the press secretary position and the actual government official.

Some press secretaries manage to bridge that gap. Take Earl Bush, who spoke for Richard J. Daley for some 20 years. If you need a more recent example, there is Mike Lawrence, who was a press secretary for Jim Edgar – latching onto him when he was Secretary of State, then rising up with him when Edgar became governor.

Those are examples of people who develop a close enough relationship to impact public policy.

But in many ways, they also are the exception.

FOR ALL TOO often, I have seen my reporter-type colleagues leave a news job (because the pay stinks or they want to quit before getting laid off) to become a government press secretary for a year or two.

Then, they wind up on some corporate payroll doing public relations, or perhaps they turn themselves into “media consultants” who take on contracts to work for various entities – on the theory that a little bit of money from a lot of people can add up to a nice income.

These aren’t exactly the types of people who are going to have such a close tie to a politician that it can accurately be said they influenced the direction of public policy.

That is roughly the category I think Jackson fits into.

I’M NOT PREPARED to demonize every single person who ever came into contact with Rod Blagojevich. If I did, I’d have to include myself, since I remember covering him back in the mid-1990s when he was still in the state Legislature (and no one had ever heard of Barack Obama).

If anything, I want to demonize the people who are eager to use the “Blagojevich” label on every occasion possible. Many of us are tired of hearing about the man, and would like to hear nothing more until his actual trial in U.S. District Court takes place next year.


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