At a Glance
- Career History: Director, Illinois Department of Public Health (2003 to 2007); Senior Attending Physician, Cook County (Ill.) Hospitals (1996 to 2003)
- Alma Mater: Grinnell College; Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, M.D.; Harvard School of Public Health, M.P.H.
Path to Power
Whitaker graduated from Grinnell College and went on to the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. While in medical school, Whitaker was president of the American Medical Students Association and twice testified before Congress regarding health insurance and minority health issues, according to his official biography.
Whitaker also earned a master's degree in health policy and management from the Harvard School of Public Health. It was on the basketball courts of Cambridge, Mass., that Whitaker first encountered the future president of the United States. Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times, "He and I played basketball together when he was getting his master's in public health at Harvard, while I was in law school there."
As state health chief, Whitaker won nationwide praise for programs that used churches to educate minorities about AIDS, breast cancer and preparing for public-health emergencies.
But the department under Whitaker was also touched by scandal. Whitaker oversaw the budget of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Tony Rezko and his associates controlled that board, which they used to solicit kickbacks and payoffs, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Whitaker told the Sun-Times he was not involved in the board's day-to-day operations. He was never accused of any wrongdoing.
Whitaker is a part of a tight-knit circle of friends who are quickly becoming known as "FOBs," or "Friends of Barack." He was one member of the group that surrounded Obama on the campaign trail, which included the Obama's longtime friend and incoming senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, Michelle Obama's brother Craig Robinson and Obama's campaign treasurer Martin Nesbitt.
Whitaker was also a frequent player in Obama's pickup basketball games. Other players were Nesbitt, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and then-Chicago Public Schools head Arne Duncan, Ariel Capital Management founder John W. Rogers Jr., and Obama's personal aide Reggie Love.
Whitaker didn't donate money to his friend Barack Obama until 2006, when the senator began eyeing a presidential run. Whitaker donated $2,100 to Obama in 2006, $1,950 in 2007, and $200 in 2008.
It wasn't the first time Whitaker had donated to an Illinois politician. In 1998, he gave $500 to incumbent Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's (D-Ill.) unsuccessful campaign for relection. In 2004 and 2005, he gave $500 to the campaign of Rep. Danny K. Davis, a Democrat who represents Illinois' 7th district.