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Sandi Jackson's Former Chief of Staff Seeks to Replace Her as Alderman

By Wendell Hutson | March 20, 2014 8:19am | Updated on March 20, 2014 8:27am
 Keiana Barrett, former chief of staff to Sandi Jackson, announced March 17 her candidacy for alderman for the 7th Ward.
Keiana Barrett, former chief of staff to Sandi Jackson, announced March 17 her candidacy for alderman for the 7th Ward.
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Keiana Barrett

SOUTH CHICAGO — Keiana Barrett, the former chief of staff to disgraced Ald. Sandi Jackson, this week announced her candidacy for the 7th Ward seat formerly occupied by Jackson.

Ald. Natashia Holmes, who was appointed in 2013 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said she planned to run next year as well.

Barrett, previously a press secretary for Chicago Public Schools who now handles strategic communications for the school district's Family and Community Engagement Department, said she was running because she believed the ward needed to be "re-energized."

"We need a fresh start and this upcoming election is an opportunity for the community to be re-energized," Barrett said. "Everyone has their own brand of leadership and community stakeholders have told me they are ready for a change."

 Jesse Jackson Jr. and wife Sandi both resigned from public office shortly before pleading guilty in 2013 to federal crimes. 
Jesse Jackson Jr. and wife Sandi both resigned from public office shortly before pleading guilty in 2013 to federal crimes.  
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Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

Holmes, whose background includes holding a law degree and serving on a local school council, noted that Barrett only recently moved into the ward.

Barrett said issues facing the ward were a lack of economic development and crime.

"Yes, we want zero tolerance for crime, but we also want more businesses in the ward so residents do not have to go elsewhere to spend their money," she said. "A better economic environment means more job opportunities, better housing and improved schools."

At some point Barrett said she might take a leave from her CPS job but had no plans to resign.

"I realize that as time goes on my campaign may become time consuming, and at that point I will decide whether it's best to take a leave," she said. "But as long as I keep my work duties separate from my campaign, I see nothing wrong with doing both."

Phillip Hampton, chief of CPS' community and family engagement, agreed.

"What she does off the job is her business as long as it does not interfere with her work at CPS. She has every right to be involved in community service," Hampton said. "I see it as an asset to have Keiana working with us when you consider her experience working in the neighborhood."

The 41-year-old single mother of two sons, ages 9 and 2, acknowledged that while she moved into the ward seven months ago from Kenwood, she has been involved in the 7th Ward for years, so moving back is like "returning home."

Holmes, a nine-year resident of the ward, said she couldn't understand why Barrett worked in the ward as Jackson's chief of staff but "did not want to live in the ward."

Like first lady Michelle Obama, Barrett said she graduated from the former Bryn Mawr Elementary School, 7355 S. Jeffery Blvd.

"My kids go to school in the 7th Ward, also," she added.

Barrett, who lives in South Chicago, earned a bachelor's degree in English and communications from Illinois State University and a master's in human services from the Spertus Institute in Chicago.

Sending her children to school in the 7th Ward is opposite what Jackson did when she was alderman. The wife of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. chose to send her two elementary age children to school in Washington, D.C., where the couple had a home in addition to their South Shore residence.

Sandi Jackson resigned last January shortly before pleading guilty in federal court to income tax evasion.

"I was disappointed and surprised," Barrett said, referring to Sandi Jackson's guilty plea last February. "My prayers are with her and her family."

Sandi Jackson did not return calls seeking comment.

The Jacksons were not alone last year when it came to elected officials from the 7th Ward resigning due to criminal activity.

Former Cook County Commissioner William Beavers (D-4th) resigned shortly before being found guilty in federal court last March of income tax evasion. Previously, Beavers was the alderman for the 7th Ward and had also been a Chicago cop.

At an unrelated Wednesday news conference in Englewood, Emanuel said it was up to the voters to decide who they wanted to represent them in the City Council.

"[Holmes is] not my candidate," Emanuel said. "She's the candidate of the ward. She'll make her case to the people of the ward about what she's been working on."

That's exactly what Holmes said she planned to do.

"Several people are probably going to run because I am seen as a new alderman who has not won an election yet," Holmes said. "So anyone who wants to put their hat into the game is free to do so. That is not going to stop me from running and continue working to bring greater investments to the seventh ward."

Ted Cox contributed to this story.