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Obama's Senior Adviser Is Close, Connected

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Obama's Senior Adviser Is Close, Connected

Politics

Obama's Senior Adviser Is Close, Connected

Obama's Senior Adviser Is Close, Connected

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97350111/97350095" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One key person helping President-elect Obama fill the top jobs in his administration will continue to work with him in the White House: Transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett has been named a senior White House adviser.

As Obama greeted customers Friday at the popular Chicago deli Manny's and ordered a corned beef on rye, Jarrett was beside him.

In fact, Jarrett has been by Obama's side throughout the long campaign, and really, for many of the important moments of his and wife Michelle's lives for nearly two decades. She is one of the Obamas' closest friends. The president-elect has said he trusts her completely.

Jarrett recalls first meeting the couple in 1991.

"Michelle was still Michelle Robinson. She was working in a law firm here in Chicago and I recruited her to come and join Mayor Daley's office; I was Mayor Daley's deputy chief of staff at the time," she says.

Michelle was a well-paid corporate lawyer then looking for a job in public service, to give something back to the city.

Jarrett had done the same thing just four years before, leaving a high-powered law firm to work in the administration of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. After Washington died and Daley was elected, many high-ranking African-Americans left city government, but Jarrett stayed.

"She's one of the few people who has survived the Washington years and ended up becoming a major player in the Daley years," says Chicago Sun-Times columnist and DePaul University professor Laura Washington. Washington served as Mayor Washington's deputy press secretary.

Jarrett became Daley's deputy chief of staff, then commissioner of Planning and Development.

When Jarrett left City Hall to become a real estate executive, Daley tapped her to head the board of the troubled Chicago Transit Authority.

Jarrett has served on a wide array of corporate and civic boards in Chicago.

"She's a go-to person in the civic and corporate world," Washington says. "People see her not only just as an ally and close associate with the mayor and Barack Obama, but they see her as someone who has a lot of connections and a lot of respect in a lot of different places."

Laura Washington calls Jarrett a blue blood in the black community. She has a 22-year-old daughter who is a student at Harvard Law School. Jarrett herself was born in Iran in 1956 — when her parents were working to improve health care there. Her father is a prominent doctor, her mother an expert in child development.

Jarrett's great-grandfather was the first African-American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And her grandfather was the first African-American to run the Chicago Housing Authority.

"I think that Valerie Jarrett sees herself as a progressive, civic activist, who comes from a very progressive, very established political family," Washington says.

On the Obama campaign, Jarrett's title was simply, senior adviser. In truth, there was little the candidate did or said that wasn't run by her first.

"If no drama is the mantra of the Obama campaign, then she is the keeper of the flame," says political consultant David Wilhelm. Wilhelm, who worked with Jarrett in Chicago and managed Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, says her business acumen, her coolness under pressure and her closeness to the Obamas allowed her to play a critical role during the campaign. And he expects Jarrett will continue to do so in the White House.

"Barack Obama will be blessed to have somebody whose judgment he trusts, whose friendship he can rely on and she can't help but rise to the top of the decision-making structure."

To take her position as a senior White House adviser, Jarrett will leave her job as CEO of the Habitat Co., a real estate development firm. She'd been rumored to be in line to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Some public housing advocates in Chicago are relieved she didn't get it. They say her company has mismanaged public housing properties.

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