The Shake-Up Artist

Chicago speaks to new alderman Sandi Jackson—Jesse Jackson Jr.’s wife—about her aspirations, why Jesse Jr. shouldn’t shop, and Obama versus Hillary.

Until she began popping up on billboards all over the South Side, Sandi Jackson-Jesse Jackson Jr.’s wife-worked mainly behind the scenes on Capitol Hill. After consulting on presidential campaigns and one glamorous stint wrangling VIPs for the Clinton inaugural, Jackson made her first bid for elected office this past February in the 7th Ward aldermanic race. She shook up the political establishment, handily defeating incumbent Darcel Beavers, daughter of longtime alderman–turned–Cook County commissioner William Beavers. Chicago spoke to the new alderman about her aspirations, why Jesse Jr. shouldn’t shop, and Obama versus Hillary.

Q: So, Mayor Daley calls to congratulate you the day after the election and several days later you still hadn’t called him back. Have you yet?
I did return his call, and he’s been out of town. The voice mail on my cell phone and my home phone was full when he was calling. Finally, my husband called me and was like, “Get off the phone-the mayor’s trying to reach you!” But then he didn’t call again. He ended up sending a nice, handwritten note that said, “Congratulations and I’m looking forward to working with you.” Of course, now I feel compelled to send him one, too.

Q: Your campaign centered on controlling crime and improving city services. You didn’t mention political corruption very frequently. Do you think the recent scandals had much to do with the outcome?
Yes, I do. You can go to any diner on the South Side and talk to people about it. The anger is right there on the surface . . . so if I didn’t say much about it, it was because I only needed to say a single word and the comments would just come rolling out.

Q: What was with all those Photoshopped billboards? Couldn’t you get your husband to pose for a new picture with you?
I think that this is the funniest thing. Jesse is asked to do so many pictures nationwide, so it really is difficult to get him in the studio to pose for something and he just always uses that one. When he said, “Honey, I’m going to put the billboards together for you,” I thought it was cute. I thought it would be one or two. Boy, did he give me a surprise. Those billboards were everywhere, and I didn’t have anything to do with it. How could I have any doubt about how much he loves me after that?

Q: How do you and your husband manage political careers and marriage when he’s in D.C. much of the time?
For the 20 years that Jesse and I have been together, we’ve always been in two cities. The way I think of it is that we’re on a perpetual honeymoon. He’s not around long enough for me to get grumpy. 

Q: Who handles the finances?
You know women are the worker bees! I do everything, woman. I do it all! [Laughs.] I’ve always just planned my days around being able to get the groceries. I like it. You can’t keep me out of Costco: that’s relaxing to me. And I go to Children’s Place to get the kids’ clothes, and I like doing that. If Jesse goes, he’s going to come back with stuff that doesn’t fit and he paid too much for it. He’s not cost conscious at all.

Q: By the way, who named the kids, three-year-old Jesse and seven-year-old Jessica?
I came up with Jessica. I figured that because I was older and we’d had some trouble getting pregnant, this might be our only child.

With Tre [Jesse III’s nickname], I wanted to name him Justin, but Jesse pleaded with me. I was 40, and I said this was it, and he said, “If you’re not going to give me any more babies, it has to be Jesse.” We debated it for a while, and eventually I gave in.

Q: You’ve been a congressional staffer and worked on lots of presidential campaigns; many are speculating that you might be aiming for elective office beyond the city council. And, of course, they say the same thing about your husband. How will you decide who runs for mayor?
I have not decided what else to do other than the job that I’ve yet to be sworn into. I’m going to do my best as alderman first. As for Jesse, the sky’s the limit.

Q: Speaking of political spouses running for office, how do you like Hillary’s chances?
I love Hillary! I love her! But I love Barack and Michelle, too. Michelle grew up with my husband. Barack has been a friend for over ten years. But the Clintons, I would not be where I am today without them. I’m just near tears because I’m just so torn up about it.