December 12, 2008
The back story of Valerie Jarrett, Illinois U.S. Senate Seat and the White House
No one with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has identified his close friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett as Senate candidate #1, as mentioned in the criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but it's clear that she is the person often mentioned.
There is a wide assumption by many that Jarrett "mysteriously" dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate, and I've even heard some suggest that the Obama team got wind of Blagojevich's alleged scheme to broker a deal for the seat appointment.
But there is nothing mysterious about what happened.
One week before the Nov. 4 election, Jarrett had multiple conversations with Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, with regards to the Senate position. This was in response to a number of Chicago allies asking her to consider taking an appointment for the remaining two years of the seat.
That doesn't come as a surprise to those familiar with the city's politics. A former top official with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who is now CEO of a real estate company, she has served in many civic positions, and has had her name mentioned for various posts, including even running for mayor one day.
At the same time, multiple sources have told me that supporters of Jarrett were sending out feelers to black ministers and community activists to gauge the level of interest in her going after the job as a way to solidify support before it coalesced around another candidate or candidates.
Then after Obama's victory, the speculation immediately turned to whether she would go after the job. It was well known that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. wanted the post, and many were placing bets as to which way Obama would go, especially since the congressman was one of his national co-chairs. It was assumed that Obama would side with Jarrett, but he had not made a decision one way or another on who should take his place in the U.S. Senate.
One of the reasons Obama didn't declare her as his choice for the seat is because he was considering who would serve as his key advisers. Now that he was headed to the White House, his world is even smaller than it was when he was running for president, and he is further walled off from the rest of the world. He often said that Jarrett was one of his most trusted advisers, and having her at his side was important for a variety of reasons.
That's why on November 9, while she was in New York on business, he offered her the job as senior advisor to the president and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison. This position has her reporting directly to him and places her in the inner sanctum of the president of the United States, and ensures that her voice will be heard on nearly every issue.
I know the date well because on November 10, she confided in me that she had been offered the job, but I couldn't report anything until the announcement was about to be made. I had been working the phones to ascertain what jobs were being offered to a litany of Obama campaign officials, and she was certainly high on the list because of her relationship with Obama.
On November 12, with speculation increasing that she was going after the job, she announced that she was not interested. And on November 14, I reported that she had been officially named to the post. And on November 16, Obama officially resigned his U.S. Senate seat, putting the choice for a replacement into overdrive.
No one still knows whether the Obama camp found out about Blagojevich's alleged wheeling and dealing for the seat. But the notion that Jarrett's decision to drop out of the running because of Pay Rod just doesn't jive with the facts.
Thanks to Roland for telling us this.