Obama taps a Daley as new chief of staff

By Anne E. Kornblut and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 7, 2011; A01

William M. Daley has the deep political experience one would expect in a top White House hire: scion of a Chicago political dynasty, adviser to numerous presidential candidates, former Cabinet secretary who also relishes exerting influence behind the scenes.

But in turning to Daley as his new chief of staff on Thursday, President Obama was looking as much at the other pages of his resume. With extensive experience as a businessman and Wall Street executive, Daley comes to the administration positioned to help the president rebuild his frayed relationship with the corporate world.

Daley, 62, has spent a lifetime moving between the corporate and government spheres, often appearing to use one as a steppingstone to the other. A lawyer serving as Midwestern chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase, Daley has been a bank president, vice chairman of a boutique investment firm and president of a communications giant. He has been on the boards of Boeing, Fannie Mae and Electronic Data Systems, earning a sizable fortune along the way.

Announcing Daley on Thursday, Obama said his new chief of staff has "led major corporations; he possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy."

Daley will now assume one of the most influential positions in government, taking over as chief of staff in the next few weeks. He replaces Pete Rouse, who has filled the job temporarily since Rahm Emanuel left the White House last year to run for mayor of Chicago.

Daley is himself a major figure in Chicago politics. He is the son of legendary Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and brother of the city's retiring mayor, Richard M. Daley - the man Emanuel hopes to replace.

Daley will bring an outsider's perspective to a White House that has been criticized as too insular. Although Obama and Daley have crossed paths over the years, they do not know each other well.

Moderate views

A sometimes outspoken centrist, Daley has been critical of what he considered the Democratic Party's liberal drift. He warned in December 2009 that Democrats can either "plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come."

His moderate views and Wall Street credentials make him an unexpected choice for a president who has railed against corporate irresponsibility and tried, with limited success, to appease restive liberals who think he has not been tough enough on bankers.

Some Democrats reacted harshly to the appointment of Daley, who has worked as head of Chase's Office of Corporate Social Responsibility - which includes the bank's lobbying arm.

"I believe that they just tilt too far toward that Wall Street crowd, and they're going to keep moving in that direction," said Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa). Nonetheless, he said Daley can "make the trains run on time."

Republicans and business leaders were more enthusiastic. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the choice sounded like " a good idea." Thomas Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called it a "strong appointment."

Daley's style is congenial and efficient, friends say, and he is described as both easygoing and obsessively neat. He is expected to be a more calming presence in the West Wing than Emanuel was and is not expected to drive the White House at the same relentless pace.

"His demeanor is quite the opposite of Emanuel's," said former congressman David E. Bonior (D-Mich.). "He's self-effacing."

Former colleagues credit him with sharp instincts and the ability to stay calm in a crisis. It was Daley who advised former vice president Al Gore not to concede the 2000 presidential election immediately, and who helped now-Vice President Biden bring his nascent White House bid to a close in 1988. He has played a part in every presidential election in recent memory - and helped deliver Illinois for every Democrat.

"Bill's range of experience is as broad as anyone in politics," said senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, a close friend of Daley's.

"His fresh perspective and steady hand will be a tremendous asset to the president as he tackles the significant challenges that lie ahead," Gore said. He described his former campaign chairman as a "superb manager with great instincts."


Daley was raised in politics. Seven years old when his father, Richard J. Daley, was elected mayor of Chicago in 1955, he paid his first visit to the White House with his parents in 1960. He recalled that moment on Thursday, comparing Obama to President John F. Kennedy and saying: "You have shown through your example that public service is an honorable calling, and I am pleased to answer your call."

Yet Daley has left center-stage politics to his older brother, Richard M. Daley, who is about to retire as mayor of Chicago after the longest tenure in history. The younger Daley chose the life of an operative and a problem solver - and a frequent campaign traveling companion.

In 1984 Daley hit the road with presidential candidate Walter Mondale, and in 1987 he did so again with Biden, spending countless hours with him - unpaid - on the campaign trail. Daley ran Bill Clinton's presidential campaign operation in Illinois. He expected an appointment as Clinton's transportation secretary in return. That never happened, but he was soon appointed to the board of Fannie Mae and, a short time after that, accepted a request to steer Clinton's free-trade agenda through Congress. The North American Free Trade Agreement soon followed, and in 1997 Daley became commerce secretary.

Daley crossed easily between business and politics. His first big corporate job was as president of the Amalgamated Bank of Chicago, a union-affiliated operation that sought public-sector work. In late 1991, Daley achieved a coup by winning the bond business from the Chicago region's chief transportation agency.

Connections helped. "Bill had clout in the city," said Gayle Franzen, then chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority. But although Daley may have been hired early because of politics, she said, "no one can make a legitimate argument about Bill getting higher and higher in the corporate community because of the name. He got there for all the right reasons."

After the Gore campaign, Daley's corporate career blossomed further.

In 2001, he was named vice chairman of Evercore Capital Partners, an investment-banking firm founded by Roger Altman, a Treasury Department official from the Carter and Clinton administrations. In December 2001, Daley became president of SBC, an agglomeration of Bell companies seeking major changes in federal regulation critical to the company's future. Daley was deemed to be able to work the levers of government on the SBC's behalf. In a statement at the time, SBC chief executive Ed Whitacre said Daley's appointment as president "signals the importance of governmental matters to our company's ability to grow revenues."

In 2003, the last full year of his tenure at SBC, Daley was paid $1.52 million in salary and bonuses, and was awarded restricted stock worth $850,008 and options worth $134,117, according to a regulatory filing cited by the Chicago Sun-Times.

During his time there, he preached the virtue of less government regulation. After a court overturned Federal Communications Commission rules governing telephone competition, Daley appeared on CNBC's "Kudlow & Cramer" show. He predicted price decreases "if the government would just get out of the way."

"Mr. Daley, you sound an awfully like a capitalist," host Lawrence Kudlow said.

"Oh, we're all capitalists, Larry," Daley said.

kornbluta@washpost.com whoriskeyp@washpost.com

Staff writers Shailagh Murray, Scott Wilson and Tim Farnam contributed to this report.

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