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Obama’s short list may include Jarrett, Daley, Pritzker, Goolsbee

By Carol Eisenberg

May 27, 2008 at 7:56am

With Barack Obama close to sewing up the Democratic nominee for president, one of the hottest games in Chicago is guessing who might accompany him to Washington.

Every new president brings trusted advisers along with him. George W. Bush’s gang from Texas included Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers. Bill Clinton took Thomas “Mack” McLarty, the late Vincent Foster and Bruce Lindsey from Arkansas. Ronald Reagan had Ed Meese, William French Smith and Michael Deaver from California.

While not a native son, Obama’s political career is rooted in the Windy City, and the movers and shakers (and fundraisers) of his campaign include members of its billionaire first families like Penny Pritzker and James Crown, the Daley and Jackson political dynasties, faculty at the University of Chicago, and members of the city’s thriving black entrepreneurial community.

Speculation about Obama’s short list (from Chicago) includes:

Political guru David Axelrod, the reporter-turned-political-consultant who cut his teeth on the 1987 re-election campaign of one of Obama’s heroes, the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, and who is now Obama’s chief political strategist.

“Ax,” as he is called around Chicago, has made a specialty of helping to elect black candidates in districts where white support is essential, most notably, in the campaigns of Michael White for Cleveland mayor and Deval Patrick for Massachusetts governor. A widely admired political operator, he has worked for Chicago Democrats like Mayor Richard M. Daley and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, as well as for a host of national figures including Sens. Christopher Dodd, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, as well as for former NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

A New York City native, Axelrod came to the Windy City to study political science at the University of Chicago, working for eight years as a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He left journalism in 1984 to manage the late Paul Simon’s upset victory over incumbent U.S. Sen. Charles Percy in Illinois, and has directed campaigns ever since. He met Obama in the early 1990s, when the new-minted Harvard law grad was leading a voter registration drive on the South Side, and later directed his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign. He has said he would never leave Chicago. Time will tell.

Austan D. Goolsbee, a star economist at the University of Chicago Business School who reportedly vets Obama’s policy proposals on a range of issues.

Goolsbee, who writes the Economic Scene column for the New York Times, is a centrist who believes in free trade and eliminating tax returns for Americans with simple finances. He first met Obama in the faculty social world at the University of Chicago when Obama was lecturing in the law school. He has kept a lower public profile since getting caught in the political crossfire several months ago over comments he allegedly made to Canadian officials about the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Besides working on Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign, Goolsbee also played a role in John Kerry’s presidential campaign that year. In addition to economics, his major interests are triathlons and improvisational comedy.

Businesswoman Valerie Jarrett, a fixture of Chicago’s political and civic scene, who has known Obama since she hired then-fiancee Michelle Robinson to work on the staff of Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1991. She was then Daley’s deputy chief of staff.

“She is one of our best friends, somebody who is practically a sister,” Obama told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t make any major decisions about asking her about them first.”

Jarrett, former chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority, travels extensively with Obama and his wife, playing the role of honest broker. “I’m very frank,” she told Time. “I always tell them what I think. But that’s probably easier to do when you’re good friends.”

After working directly for Daley, Jarrett, a lawyer, became the city’s commissioner of planning and development. Her portfolio often includes the role of public mediator. As a court-appointed overseer to the desegregation of public housing in Chicago, for instance, she negotiated between the city, residents of notorious housing projects, such as Cabrini Green, and real-estate developers who were replacing the projects with mixed-income communities. She is now CEO of The Habitat Co., a real estate development and management company, as well as vice chair of the 2016 Chicago Olympic Committee, which is spearheading the city’s bid for the Summer Olympics.

Like the Obamas, Jarrett is a Hyde Park resident with deep ties to the University of Chicago. Her father, James Bowman, is a pathologist who was the first African-American to receive tenure in the University of Chicago’s department of biological sciences. Her mother, Barbara Bowman, is a child psychologist and co-founder of the Erikson Institute for child development in Chicago. Her late father-in-law is former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Vernon Jarrett. Her great-uncle is Vernon Jordan, the Washington super lawyer and Clinton confidante.

Because of Jarrett’s resume and connections, she is also considered a possible contender to succeed Daley as mayor.

Penny Pritzker, the scion of one of Chicago’s richest families and Obama’s national fund-raising director. The Harvard- and Stanford-educated lawyer and businesswoman, whose net worth was estimated at $2.8 billion last year, is one of a trio of Pritzker cousins who run a sprawling family empire that includes the Hyatt hotel chain.

Pritzker told the Wall Street Journal that she was initially reluctant to get involved in Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination. In 2007, she was running four companies, including the Pritzker Realty Group which oversees many of the family’s real-estate investments and Classic Residence by Hyatt, which provides luxury housing for seniors; serving on several charities; and raising a teenage son and daughter. She recalled her husband, ophthalmologist Bryan Traubert, becoming impatient with her hesitancy, and banging on the door in their Lincoln Park kitchen, shouting, “This is the country knocking.” That persuaded her.

Pritzker first met the Obamas in the late 1990s when her son and daughter played in a summer basketball league at a Chicago YMCA coached by Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother. Another tie is Obama’s longtime friend Martin Nesbitt, a vice president of the Pritzker Realty group, who approached her about getting involved in Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in which she also served as finance chairman.

Pritker calls herself “a centrist,” although she has mostly supported Democrats. (She did give $2,000 to George W. Bush in 2003.) Her younger brother, Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, is active in Sen. Clinton’s campaign.

William M. Daley, the son and brother of Chicago’s longest-serving mayors, who was national campaign chairman of Al Gore’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency and is now an Obama adviser.

The youngest son of the late Richard J. Daley, Bill Daley is chairman of the Midwestern group of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Although he has never held elected office, he has been a major player behind the scenes in both local and national politics. Daley served as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and played a large role in pushing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A 1995 Chicago Tribune profile called him “the born schmoozer with an even temper who listens to reason when his big brother on the 5th floor of City Hall gets flustered.” He told the Washington Post that he defected from the Clinton camp to Obama because he is “hometown” and “the ultimate change guy.”

John W. Rogers Jr., a longtime friend, sounding board and financial supporter who owns Ariel Capital Management, an investment firm that manages almost $17.5 billion in assets for public and private pension funds.

The son of a Cook County judge and a lawyer, Rogers is one of a coterie of black professionals, whose early support of Obama was a springboard for both his U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns. He was drawn into the Obama circle by Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, with whom he played basketball at Princeton where he captained the team.

Rogers has also been a link to Chicago’s larger business community, with whom he interacts on numerous corporate and charity boards. Rogers’ firm is also active in the community, cosponsoring a south-side Chicago public school, which serves over 400 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

John R. Schmidt, an attorney with Mayer Brown, who first met Obama during his work enrolling low-income voters in the early 1990s.

Obama asked for fundraising help from Schmidt, then co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s Illinois finance campaign, and the two struck up a friendship. Schmidt subsequently served as ambassador and chief U.S. negotiator for the Uruguay round of world trade talks in 1993 and 1994, before becoming the No. 3 man in Clinton’s Justice Department.

A longtime player in Chicago Democratic politics, Schmidt worked with Mayor Richardl M. Daley in the late 1980s. Most recently, he served as counsel to the city in the privatization of the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge for $1.83 billion, the first privatization of an American toll road or toll bridge.

Martin Nesbitt, a successful businessman and longtime friend and confidante, who was the finance chairman of Obama’s first, unsuccessful run for Congress.

The president of a Chicago parking management company and vice president of the Pritzker Realty Group, Nesbitt and his wife mix with the same Hyde Park crowd as the Obamas. Nesbitt was with Obama when he made his historic speech to the 2004 Democratic convention, and he was with him in Philadelphia last March when he delivered his remarks about race.

His wife, Anita Blanchard, an obstetrician, delivered both of Obama’s children.

Nesbitt chairs the Chicago Housing Authority and sits on the boards of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, among others.

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3 Comments

  • #1.   Susan 06.01.2008

    Given Michelle’s family connection to the Daley machine, Billy M would be a good choice -keep the corruption in the White House.

  • #2.   stop it 11.02.2008

    Martin Nesbitt is the epitome of corruption; Mayor Richard Daley appointed him as Chairperson. Look at his track record at the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). There are a lot of unethical things that goes on there such as bad hiring decisions, firing and fiscal mismanagement. Lewis Jordan, CEO of CHA, is a clone of Todd Stroger, Cook County President. Lewis Jordan is hiring all of his unqualified friends at $90k per year such as Addie Wright (Commissioner Ivers’ friend), Patricia Emmanual (Lewis former HR Director at Cook County Housing Authority), and many more. I encourage you to get a copy of CHA’s payroll, under FOIA, CHA has to give you names, job title, date of hire and salary info. You will see the funny business going on.
    Marty Nesbitt is suppose to oversee CHA and is doing a terrible job. I hope Obama’s campaign fundraising gets audited…Nesbitt is bad news for the Obama campaign.

  • #3.   Illinois girl 12.04.2008

    DO NOT let Lewis Jordan into the Obama circle.

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