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Former Blagojevich Aide Set to Join ONE

Former Illinois Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix is joining the global poverty nonprofit ONE as U.S. executive director.

Nix, who spent two years as a top aide to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) before leaving the governor’s office last summer, starts in June and will be based in Washington, D.C.

“We were looking for someone with broad experience across policy, legislative affairs, communications and public mobilization, and Sheila really fit that bill,— ONE spokeswoman Kathy McKiernan said.

Nix’s position was created after the ONE campaign and Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa (DATA), formed by U2 rocker Bono, merged in 2007. Susan McCue, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), departed as CEO of the ONE campaign in October 2007.

Nix, who was hired after an eight-month search, will be in charge of the nonprofit’s U.S. advocacy efforts, legislative affairs and state outreach.

She will report to ONE President and CEO David Lane.

“I wanted to join the ONE organization once I heard about the position because it has such an awesome mission,— Nix said.

While she hasn’t specifically worked on global poverty policy, Nix said her background as chief of staff to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) when he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was a good background.

Still, political operatives familiar with Nix and ONE have started to raise questions about Nix’s bona fides in the nonprofit world and whether Nix’s ties to Blagojevich, who is facing federal corruption charges, will be a distraction from ONE’s mission.

“People are very surprised,— said one Illinois operative familiar with the organization. “It’s going to be even more of a distraction when Blagojevich goes on trial.—

Nix, who left Blagojevich’s office before the most recent scandal over filling the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, says she isn’t worried about that.

“I left the governor’s office about a year ago; everything that happened there was subsequent to my time,— Nix said. Deputy governors are appointed by the governor of Illinois as senior aides and have no connection to the Illinois lieutenant governor.

ONE is backing its new executive director.

“We’ve talked to Republicans and Democrats who have worked with her in Illinois and D.C. and what we’ve heard repeatedly is that she’s a great leader, a straight shooter and someone who you can count on to get things done,— McKiernan said. “We have no reservations whatsoever and we are excited she’s joining our team,— she added.

Besides her background as Nelson’s chief of staff, Nix also served as chief to then-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and had been policy director and chief of staff in Blair Hull’s 2004 Democratic primary campaign, in the race in which Barack Obama took the U.S. Senate seat. She joins ONE after working as a senior adviser to the Strategy Group, an Evanston,Ill.-based consulting company.

ONE spent $170,000 on federal lobbying during the first quarter of 2009, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

The Sheridan Group and Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart are on retainer for the group.

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