Obama Insiders From Chi-Town Move To D.C.

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When a new president is sworn into office, there are usually a few hometown experts joining the administration. Barack Obama is bringing a big group of Chicago's movers and shakers with him to Washington and that may make for some changes to both cities.


When a new president is sworn into office, there are usually a few hometown experts joining the administration. Barack Obama is bringing a big group of Chicago movers and shakers with him to Washington, D.C., and that may make for some change for both cities. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: The shift to power from Chicago to Washington is familiar ground for some Obama allies. Chief-of-staff Ram Emmanual has shuttled between the two cities as a Clinton aide and a former Congressman. Some of the newcomers to Washington include incoming Education Secretary Arne Duncan, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and political guru David Axelrod. And that's just a partial list of the Obama Chicago-D.C. connection.

Ms. AVIS LAVELLE (President, A. LaVelle Consulting Services; Former Assistant Secretary Public Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services): There's so many people going that they'll have a comfort level.

CORLEY: That's Chicagoan Avis LaVelle. She did her own stint in Washington as part of the Clinton administration and runs a consulting firm. LaVelle says Chicago has a deep talent bench, so it's not likely that the city will suffer from so many influential people leaving. Instead, LaVelle says, the Midwest will get more attention.

Ms. LAVELLE: That's not to say that they won't be able to ignore the issues that get everybody all whipped up on the East Coast or the West Coast, but I think it will certainly add another dimension to what the nation focuses on and what the administration focuses on.

CORLEY: In the Kenwick Hyde Park neighborhoods on Chicago's south side, there's still a barricade around the Obama home. Until recently, Hyde Park was like a Midwest wing of the White House with a convoy of black SUVs racing through the city taking the president-elect to various places. One of the restaurants he used to frequent when he was here is called Valois.

TOM CORNOPOLIS(ph) (General Manager, Valois Restaurant): Yeah. He used to come in a lot. Obviously, before he got famous.

CORLEY: That's general manager Tom Cornopolis, who offered a free Barack Obama special, scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns on election day. Delmarie Cobb, a Democratic political consultant who frequents the restaurant too, says even with the Obama crowd's departure, there's a chance for this south side neighborhood known for its large mansions and brownstones to prosper even more.

MS. DELMARIE COBB (Democratic Political Consultant): You have tourists who are coming in. They want to see where Obama lives. They want to see where Obama ate. They want to see where he gets his hair cut. Where he got his shoes shined, where he takes his clothes to the cleaners. I mean, all of these things.

CORLEY: But the focus now is on Washington and the mark the Obama administration will make. And Walker Marchant, the head of a corporate communications firm in D.C., worked as a special assistant to former president Clinton.

Ms. ANN WALKER MARCHANT (Founder and CEO, Walker Marchant Group): Every administration brings a new twist to the city, and we're very much looking forward to the Chicago crowd coming into Washington and really participating a lot in the Washington, D.C. - that social and political activities.

CORLEY: There is, of course, curiosity, not only about the president's family, but about administration officials who will wield substantial influence. For example, Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution says he's interested to know what type of chief of staff Ram Emmanuel will be.

Mr. STEPHEN HESS (Brookings Institute): If you look at past chiefs-of-staff, the ones who do best, survive longest, are those who say no with a pat on the back and great servility. That's not Ram Emmanuel's way. So we will see.

CORLEY: And Marchant says she has a bit of advice for the Chicagoans who are coming to D.C. and are not as familiar with it as Ram Emmanuel.

Ms. WALKER MARCHANT: Understanding that Washington is a very unique city, and you can't transplant Chicago to Washington.

CORLEY: Don't tell that to the Obamas, however. They have a close-knit extended family of friends in Chicago, and they've asked some of them to visit as often as possible.

Dr. ERIC WHITAKER (Vice President, University of Chicago Medical Center):You know, we've all been raising our families together.

CORLEY: Dr. Eric Whitaker, a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center, says he, his wife and small children spent time with the Obamas nearly every weekend in Chicago. And Whitaker says the Chicagoans who are now in Washington will do well to remember the city that nurtured and made them.

Dr. WHITAKER: I'm believing that they have a deep investment in our city. We're just simply letting them be on loan.

CORLEY: A loan that will last four years and perhaps more, but that's for another story. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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