White House changes leave gap in Jewish liaison

Obama appoints William Daley as next chief of staff; Jewish exodus at the White House as turnover brings new people to key posts.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
January 6, 2011 21:27
3 minute read.
Capitol

capitol 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

WASHINGTON – With the official turnover of Congress and 109 new faces entering the Senate and House, it’s the White House’s turn to shake up its staff.

Late Thursday, US President Barack Obama was set to announce that Chicago JPMorgan Chase executive and former Clinton commerce secretary William Daley would be his next chief of staff.

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Earlier in the week, Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, and Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, announced their departure.

Meanwhile, the replacement of former director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers is pending, with Gene Sperling said to be the most likely candidate.

Many of the openings that have been filled have also created their own question marks. Tina Tchen, currently the director of the Office of Public Engagement, was recently announced as Michelle Obama’s new chief of staff following the exit of Susan Sher. But that leaves the White House without someone in Tchen’s post. And with Sher one of the key points of outreach to American Jews, the Jewish community has been left with a gap in liaising with the White House.

Though Summers, Sher, Klain, former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and former senior White House adviser David Axelrod (who is leaving to run Obama’s reelection campaign out of Chicago) were among the most visible Jewish members of the White House team, at least one Jewish figure is likely to come in via Summer’s vacated job. And the number of existing vacancies – Gibbs and Tchen among them – means that a senior Jewish staffer could enter, potentially taking on the formal role of Jewish liaison.

At any rate, Washington Jewish players dismissed the notion that there’s any significance to the Jewish departures.

“None of them are leaving the Obama fold. They’re just leaving the grind of the White House in a city they’re not from,” said Steve Rabinowitz, himself a Jewish White House staffer under president Bill Clinton. He pointed out that Sher, Gibbs and Axelrod will all be helping with Obama’s upcoming campaign.

Rabinowitz also noted that two years into a president’s term is a traditional point of departure for many burnt-out staff.

“It’s classic timing right after an election. It’s happened in every administration of the last 50 years that there’s some change,” he said.

In the limited staff changes Obama has made in the past, he hasn’t indicated an interest in a significant overhaul in strategy or policy at the White House, with many positions being filled by people who already work for the executive branch or are close to Obama.

Axelrod, for instance, is being replaced by David Plouffe, who was Obama’s campaign manager. And Sperling already serves as a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Obama’s most significant break with the past comes in the form of his new chief of staff. Though Daley hails from Chicago and is part of a well-connected political family familiar to Obama, he is not someone in the Obama orbit. He is the son of long-time Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and brother to current Mayor Richard M. Daley.

And his business background gives him a distinctly different flavor than many other White House insiders – a key attribute as the administration focuses on improving the economy.

Daley’s business and political ties in Chicago have made him a good friend of the Jewish community there, according to Michael Kotzin of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

“He has a long history in his personal and political life in Chicago connecting with members of the community,” Kotzin said, also noting the general “friendship and comfort” with the Jewish community demonstrated over the years by the Daley family.

“He’s a civic leader in the city with close ties to many of the Jewish civic leaders,” agreed Dan Elbaum, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago office.

“There’s no question he’s got close ties to the Jewish community.”

Elbaum noted that on several occasions Daley has chaired AJC dinners, a public role of support for the organization.

“Personally I think he’ll do an excellent job and I’m delighted to hear of his appointment,” Elbaum said. “He has a proven record of success and he’s a person who works incredibly well with people of diverse backgrounds.”


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