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Eric Whitaker

Associate Dean and Executive Vice President, University of Chicago Medical Center (since 2007)

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Why He Matters

A member of Barack Obama's tight-knit circle of friends from Hyde Park in Chicago, Whitaker was a fixture on the 2008 presidential campaign trail, often sitting with Obama on the campaign plane, serving as a sounding board for the candidate and helping to keep him grounded with frequent basketball games.

Whitaker, who has been friends with Obama since both were in graduate school, works at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Michelle Obama also worked.

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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."

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The Issues

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.

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The Network

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.

 

Campaign Contributions

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.

 

Additional Resources

  1. Saslow, Eli, "On a Day Like No Other, the Same Calm," The Washington Post, November 5, 2008
  2. Kantor, Jodi, "Striking a Balance while Becoming a First Family," The New York Times, November 5, 2008
  3. Zeleny, Jeff, "No Ordinary Day for Obama; Back Home, a Bow to Superstition," The New York Times, November 5, 2008
  4. "Press Release: Eric Whitaker, MD, named executive vice president for strategic affiliations and associate dean for community-based research at the University of Chicago Medical Center," The University of Chicago Medical Center, September 17, 2007
  5. Novak, Tim and Fusco, Chris, "U. of C. Shunning Poor Patients?" The Chicago Sun-Times, August 23, 2008
  6. Nicholas, Peter, "Obama's Other Running Mate: A Basketball," The Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2008
  7. Sweet, Lynn, "Obama's pal Eric Whitaker, his Tony Rezko tie," The Chicago Sun-Times, October 28, 2008
  8. Kantor, Jodi, "Obama's Friends Form Strategy to Stay Close," The New York Times, Dec. 14, 2008
  9. Zeleny, Jeff, "Even Keel for Obama in Final Turn to Election," The New York Times, November 2, 2008
  10. Stephens, Joe, "In Ads, GOP Stresses Obama's Ties to Chicago Developer," The Washington Post, October 23, 2008
  11. Sweet, Lynn, "Obama's pal Eric Whitaker, his Tony Rezko tie," The Chicago Sun-Times, October 28, 2008