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Social Secretary Desiree Rogers is decades-old Obama pal

By Carol Eisenberg

November 25, 2008 at 9:50am

It is testament to her close relationship to Barack and Michelle Obama – and to members of their inner circle - that Desiree Rogers threw an intimate birthday party for her friend, Valerie Jarrett, last week. Among the guests were the president-elect and his wife.

“She has extraordinary flair and exquisite taste,” Jarrett, co-chairman of Obama’s transition team, told the Washington Post. “My party was perfect - she had my favorite food, my favorite flowers.”

The prominent businesswoman and Harvard MBA, who cuts a glamorous profile at Chicago’s A-list social events, was a natural choice for White House social secretary. A major fund-raiser for Obama’s presidential campaign, she is smart, well-connected and exquisitely attuned to details, say friends.

And she has been a close friend of the Obamas for decades. Rogers was once married to John W. Rogers Jr., another old pal of the Obamas, who played basketball with Michelle Obama’s brother Craig Robinson at Princeton. John Rogers, the founder of Ariel Capital Management and also a major Obama fund-raiser, is co-chairman of the president-elect’s inaugural committee.

“This appointment sends a strong message that the Obamas want to use the White House strategically . . . [to] open it to a broader range of people,” Jarrett said.

“Desiree is a heavy hitter - she comes with her own range of contacts from around the country. She’s close to Michelle and she knows everyone who will be working in the West Wing, so she will be able to create a synergy.”

The Post notes that the position of social secretary is more influential than commonly realized. Best known for staging state dinners, the social secretary is also responsible for every event or ceremony that occurs in the White House or on the grounds.

The day after the inauguration, for example, Rogers will be responsible for organizing the swearing-in of the Cabinet.

Ann Stock, a social secretary in the Clinton White House, was once charged with pulling together the signing of the historic Mideast peace agreement in four days, for 4,000 guests.

“It’s like running a small agency,” said Stock, who briefed Rogers on the job last week. “Her business savvy, her marketing skills will all come into play. Her close relationship with the Obamas is very important because she comes to the job already understanding their preferences.”

Rogers, 49, will come to the White House from Allstate Financial, where she was hired to create a social network of consumers and clients.

Prior to that, she was president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, a $2-billion utility which she had headed since 2004. She worked at the company starting in 1997 as its chief marketing officer.

Besides serving on business boards like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Rogers is vice chairman of the board for both Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry, and is a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Perhaps her most important qualification for the job of White House social secretary, Jarrett said, is that she understands the Obamas’ desire to bring in all sorts of people, “so it’s the people’s house again.”

“This campaign engaged a lot of people in ways they had not engaged before,” Jarrett said. “This is about continuing to capture that excitement.”

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