SCOTT SIMON, host:

One key person in helping President-elect Obama fill these top jobs in his administration will continue to work with him in the White House, and that's transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett, who's been named a senior White House adviser. NPR's David Schaper has this profile.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: I got the corned beef.

DAVID SCHAPER: As President-elect Obama greeted customers Friday at the popular Chicago deli Manny's and ordered his corned beef on rye, there beside him was Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of his transition team.

Unidentified Woman: What did you get, Valerie?

Ms. VALERIE JARRETT (Co-Chairman, Obama-Biden Transition Project): Corned beef.

SCHAPER: In fact, Jarrett has been by Barack 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. Valerie Bowman Jarrett is one the Obamas' closest personal friends. The president-elect has said he trusts her completely. Jarrett recalls first meeting the couple in 1991.

Ms. JARRETT: 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.

SCHAPER: 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. Chicago Sun-Times columnist and DePaul University professor Laura Washington served as Mayor Washington's deputy press secretary.

Professor LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): She's one of the few people who has survived the Washington years and ended up becoming a major player in the Daley years.

SCHAPER: 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 chair the board of the troubled Chicago Transit Authority. And Jarrett has served on a wide array of corporate and civic boards in Chicago.

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

SCHAPER: 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 MIT. And her grandfather was the first African-American to run the Chicago Housing Authority.

Professor WASHINGTON: I think that Valerie Jarrett sees herself as a progressive civic activist who comes from a very progressive, very established political family...

SCHAPER: 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.

Mr. DAVID WILHELM (Democratic Political Consultant): If no drama is the mantra of the Obama campaign, then she's the keeper of the flame.

SCHAPER: Political consultant David 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.

Mr. WILHELM: 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.

SCHAPER: To take her position as a senior adviser in the White House, Jarrett will leave her job as CEO of the Habitat Company, a real estate development firm. She'd been rumored to be in line to be the 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 some public-housing properties. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.