They don’t come much more networked than Valerie Jarrett.
The longtime friend of Barack and Michelle Obama who was tapped Friday to be a senior White House adviser may be virtually unknown in Washington, but she is a fixture of Chicago’s business and civic scene.
More important, she is fiercely loyal to the Obamas, whom she has known since 1991 when she persuaded Michelle Robinson to leave a high-paying law firm job to come to work on the staff of Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Then Daley’s deputy chief of staff, Jarrett reportedly assured Obama that his fiance would not be asked to do anything untoward.
“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 traveled extensively with the Obamas through the long presidential campaign, 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.”
Her job title in the new administration will be White House senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison.
Besides advising the president-elect on a wide-ranging set of issues, she told the New York Times, she will be the White House point person for state and local officials and will supervise the Office of Public Liaison, which she hopes to make a channel for government-citizen collaboration.
“The level of the engagement in the campaign was tremendous, and we want people to understand this will be their White House,” she said.
While lacking Washington experience, Jarrett has well-honed political instincts after years spent in the trenches, often playing the role of conciliator and fixer.
As a court-appointed overseer to the desegregation of public housing in Chicago, for instance, she negotiated between residents of several notorious housing projects and the real-estate developers who were replacing them with middle-income housing.
In her latest iteration, she was 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.
Jarrett comes from a distinguished family.
Her great-grandfather was the first African-American to graduate from M.I.T., her grandfather was the first African-American to head the Chicago Housing Authority; and 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 great-uncle, Vernon Jordan, is the Washington super lawyer and Clinton confidante.
Like the Obamas, she lives in Hyde Park. Her daughter, Laura Jarrett, attends Harvard Law School.