In a phone interview with TheDC, ISAC spokesman John Samuels denied that the event was political. “You’re full of shit,” he said.
Samuels also objected to TheDC referring to House Minority Leader Pelosi as “House minority leader,” saying, “It really pains you to call her ‘Speaker Pelosi’ doesn’t it?
“Rep. Jackson apparently had a second event where Speaker Pelosi endorsed him,” Samuels added, “Because I wasn’t present and no one from ISAC was present, nor were we asked to nor would we attend because it is a partisan event. That was covered by dozens of Chicago reporters, any one of whom would say ISAC was not there.”
After the Rainbow PUSH forum, however, Bailey and her coworkers were moved into a back room for a private meeting with Jackson Sr. and Rainbow PUSH organizer Rev. Janet Wilson, where Bailey said they received “job coaching.”
“Jesse Jackson Sr. said to work hard to help as many students as possible acquire student loans. Jackson Sr. encouraged us to network students, hold rallies and organize for ‘student loan forgiveness legislation,’” she wrote in her affidavit.
“Jesse Jackson Sr. also told us not to worry about loading students up with too much college debt, because Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats will eventually forgive all student loan debt. On the promise of debt forgiveness, ‘those people will continue to vote Democratic.’”
Bailey added that Jackson Sr. “asked how many ISACorps workers would be able to come to future events because our massive support looked great both in-person and on television.”
“Several workers raised their hand in response,” Bailey wrote.
The “job coaching” meeting with Jackson Sr., she said, “horrified” her.
“I thought our mission was to try to help students navigate the complexities of college choices,” she wrote, “and to help them to make good choices (including financial choices) so that they can lead better, more productive lives. Instead, Jesse Jackson Sr. seems to want to push less well-off college aspirants into more debt. And he does this not to improve their lives, but so that he has more political pawns to gain political power, since, as he explained it, people with debt will have to vote for Democrats if they want to get out of their student loans.”
Samuels did not deny that meeting with Jackson Sr. took place, saying he “was present” for it.
“He [Jesse Jackson Sr.] said that he believes that what we’re doing is important work,” Samuels said, “that education is one of the most important issues facing the country right now and he offered to have his picture taken with the group. Period.”
When asked if any “job coaching” occurred in that back room, as Bailey alleges, Samuels replied, “No. None whatsoever.”
When presented with Bailey’s allegation that Jackson Sr. advocated ISACorps workers increase first-generation college students’ debts because Democrats would eventually forgive their loans in exchange for Democratic Party votes, Samuels said, “That’s not true.”
Samuels did, however, add that the Rev. Jackson Sr. “expressed concern over the levels of student debt. But that’s — anybody can do that.” And he conceded that the Rainbow Push leader “expressed the interest that Operation PUSH people are pushing for debt forgiveness.”
Samuels also acknowledged another detail in Bailey’s account, repeating her recollection that Jackson Sr. asked the room, “Who here today has their own student loan debt?” Like Bailey, Samuels recalled many people raising their hands.
In addition to Bailey’s affidavit, an email chain the For The Good of Illinois PAC obtained from ISACorps indicates that on March 6, ISAC College Access Initiatives Managing Director Jacqueline Moreno tried to orchestrate a meeting with Rev. Janette Wilson of Rainbow PUSH. She planned to create at that meeting a “more structured relationship that feeds into a national framework.”
Moreno wanted to see Rainbow PUSH and ISACorps “work together in a more formal way.”
As additional confirmation of what happened in that room, Bailey cited a defensive email that ISAC Education Services Director of Post Secondary Education Services Aimee Melgar sent to the agency’s staff on Wednesday, March 14.
“Reverend Wilson from PUSH talked about rallying groups together on college campuses to address student loan forgiveness, etc,” Melgar wrote. “As a state agency, we cannot be involved in lobbying, signing petitions, having Facebook conversations on work Facebook accounts, or taking any stance around student loan debt on work time or on work accounts.”
“To clarify my point further, ISAC cannot be involved in helping PUSH with their student loan forgiveness efforts,” Melgar added.