A political rookie who was a top aide to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Monday that she intends to run for the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
"I'm going to look to regular people. Working families, single mothers, middle-class families who are grappling with the same -- for the first time -- grappling with the home forclosures, losing their nesteggs, their investments. I am taking my case to the people," Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson said during an interview Monday afternoon.
Jackson issued a statement about her intention to run and plans to formally announce her candidacy next month. She said she plans to take a leave of absence from her job to mount a campaign.
Although this will be her first run for elected office, Jackson already has political baggage because of her Blagojevich ties. She worked as his spokeswoman during his first term, when federal prosecutors were investigating his administration's hiring practices.
"Those were not my decisions," said Jackson, who left the administration to join the Chicago Urban League in October 2006.
Her entry into the race makes her the best-known black candidate to seek the seat that has been held by three of the nation's four black senators in modern times. The Senate's only black member Roland Burris currently holds it. He is not seeking a full term because of fundraising troubles.
Burris was crippled politically when he accepted the appointment to the Senate seat from Blagojevich in December after the
then-governor was arrested on federal corruption charges. Blagojevich was later impeached and removed from office in January
Jackson will challenge Illinois treasurer Alexi Giannoulias in the Democratic primary and the winner of that contest will likely take on North Shore Congressman Mark Kirk, the presumptive Republican nominee. The Giannoulias campaign declined to comment on Jackson's announcement.
Other Republicans eyeing the race include retired Judge Don Lowery; entrepreneur Eric Wallace; and former Harvey Alderman John Arrington. Wallace and Arrington are also black.
Jackson, 44, said she feels a duty to serve and would bring to Washington her experience at creating economic opportunities that
has been at the heart of her work with the civil rights organization she leads.
Her Chicago roots are deep. Jackson serves as a director on the boards of the Field Museum, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Northwestern University, the Metropolitan Planning council, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and on Chicago's 2016 Olympics committee.
She is a graduate of Northwestern University.
Jackson will have some high-profile help with her campaign. She's retained David Wilhelm, a former Democratic National Committe Chairman who helped engineer President Bill Clinton's winning campaign, as a special adviser.
Frank Watkins, who managed both Jesse Jackson's failed presidential bid and Jesse Jackson Jr.'s successful congressional bid, will manage her campaign.