President-elect Barack Obama has named confidant and fellow Chicagoan Valerie Bowman Jarrett as his senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison. In that role Jarrett will be Mr. Obama’s contact with external groups and elected officials at all levels of government. For the Obamas the appointment brings to the White House a trusted friend and part of their Chicago inner circle. Jarrett is considered to be a top line professional, highly accomplished and toughened by Chicago’s rough and tumble politics.
For months Jarrett could often be seen traveling with Senator Obama and was often seen at his side at events. The Chicagoan is a well known figure in the Windy City, her maternal grandfather being the late Robert Taylor, the city housing legend after whom a sprawling development was named. Jarrett was born in Iran and spent some of her childhood in London before returning stateside to Chicago. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University in 1978 and her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School three years later.
Jarrett cut her political teeth in the Windy City, and became a fixture in the upper echelon of Chicago politics. In 1987 she was picked by the late Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor, to be Deputy Corporation Counsel. She continued in that capacity under Mayor Eugene Sawyer and Mayor Richard M. Daley. From 1988 to 1989 Jarrett served as the Director of Leadership Greater Chicago and was later tapped by Mayor Daley to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff. Her role in the Daley administration expanded when she was named the city’s Commissioner of Planning and Development.
Daley recognized Jarrett’s skills and named her Chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority, a position in which she oversaw an agency with an $800 million budget. She served on the Transit Authority board for eight years. In 2007 Jarrett broke new ground when she was elected to a three year term as Chair of the Chicago Stock Exchange. She is on the board of the Chicago Museum of Science and chairwoman of the University of Chicago Medical Center’s Board of Trustees. Jarrett currently serves as president and chief executive officer of the Habitat Co., one of Chicago’s largest real estate firms. She is one of three Obama Transition Team co-chairs, the others being Rep. Rahm Emanuel and strategist David Axelrod.
The formal addition of Jarrett to the President-elect’s White House team puts a determinately Chicago flavor to the new administration’s inner sanctum. It also represents a high profile woman and African American to the leadership of the Obama White House, not an insignificant point given the influence of women and Black Americans as key constituencies in the Democratic Party.