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Transition Team Profiles

Friday, November 7, 2008

VALERIE JARRETT

Position: Transition co-chair

Experience: Jarrett, 51, is a Chicagoan who has done a little of everything in Barack Obama's adoptive home town. Born in Shiraz, Iran, where her father ran a hospital for poor children, Jarrett was raised in Hyde Park, the neighborhood where the Obamas live.

Jarrett worked as a lawyer for Mayor Harold Washington and deputy chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, then moved to the city planning department. She chaired the Chicago Transit Authority before leaving city government to become executive director of Habitat Co., a Chicago firm that develops and manages a wide spectrum of residential properties, including public housing. Habitat has been criticized for poor management of Chicago public housing projects, a knock that Jarrett disputes.

Jarrett has played an influential role at the University of Chicago and currently chairs the University of Chicago Medical Center board while also serving as vice chair of the university's board of trustees. She was also chairman of the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Other: Jarrett is a friend and confidante who calls herself a "sounding board" for Barack and Michelle Obama. She met them nearly 20 years ago when she hired the then-Michelle Robinson, who said before accepting the job that she wanted her boyfriend, now the president-elect, to be able to ask a few questions.

JOHN D. PODESTA

Position: Transition co-chair

Experience: Podesta, 59, is a Chicago native and onetime chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. He is currently president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and recent co-author of a book about how progressives can, as he said in the title, "save our economy, our climate, and our country."

Raised in a blue-collar family, Podesta has a long Washington résumé. He was an aide to Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and spent five years as a lobbyist before joining the Clinton White House, where he started as staff secretary.

Podesta rose to deputy chief of staff and took the top job shortly before Clinton's impeachment trial began. He was known for smarts, toughness and attention to detail during the most challenging period of the Clinton presidency. In the years since, he has steeped himself in policy questions.

Other: Podesta may be from Chicago, but his first choice for president was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). He worked closely with Obama's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and remains close to Daschle, who has become a trusted Obama adviser.

PETE ROUSE

Position: Transition co-chair

Experience: Rouse, 62, had hoped to guide a U.S. senator to the White House one day, but he thought it would be his longtime boss, former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle. When Daschle lost his seat in 2004, Rouse agreed to become Obama's chief of staff and principal guide to the ways of Capitol Hill.

A publicity-avoiding workaholic who arrived in Washington more than three decades ago, Rouse was widely considered the Senate's most influential aide -- sometimes called the 101st senator -- when he was Daschle's chief of staff. He later drew on his extensive network of contacts as Obama built his campaign team.

Other: To win him over in 2005, when Rouse was considering leaving government, Obama told the Hill veteran that he wanted to "form a partnership" with Rouse. Obama said last year: "Pete's very good at looking around the corners of decisions and playing out the implications of them. He's been around long enough that he can recognize problems and pitfalls a lot quicker than others can."

DAVID AXELROD

Position: Chief strategist

Experience: Axelrod, 53, is a University of Chicago political science graduate who spent his early career covering politics for the Chicago Tribune. He wrote about a world that he would later try to shape as a consultant.

Respected for his ability to shape a concise message and draw a vivid image through political advertising, Axelrod is a longtime consultant to Mayor Richard M. Daley, now in his sixth term. He works with Chicago-based Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff.

Axelrod, raised in a middle-class Jewish household in New York, has a record of success with candidates including Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick and former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams.

Other: Axelrod joined Obama's political team during his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, later becoming the central architect and one of the most public faces of the race for the White House. In his victory speech, Obama said the men worked together "every step of the way."

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