Monday, January 10, 2011

Barack Obama's Network of Close Friends (NCF)

Barack Obama was elected the first Africa-American to become the 44th President of the USA. 

"In the presidential campaign, the Obamas had a “no new friends” rule, surrounding themselves with a coterie of familiar faces. Even if the Obamas lift that rule in Washington, newcomers are unlikely to replicate the intensity of this group’s ties, formed over more than a decade....When the Obamas were hardly the most prominent members of the group, the doctors, lawyers and businessmen from Chicago became not just one another’s friends but also one another’s supporters, forming a network that eventually helped the politician among them on his way to a Senate seat and then the presidency. Their bonds grew only tighter in the long slog of the campaign."

He has friends who are very close. Who are they?: 

1. Valerie Jarrett, Senior White House adviser and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison. In Obama history, her chapter starts when she hires Michelle, then Obama’s fiance, to be her deputy in Mayor Daley’s City Hall of Chicago.  

She was one of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s most trusted advisers, serving as deputy chief of staff. When looking to fill a job opening in 1991, friend and colleague Susan Sher recommended a young lawyer Michelle Robinson, who was working at Sidley Austin but wanted to get into public service. “She is made for you,” Sher said. “This is exactly what you did.” 

That meeting with the future Michelle Obama started a friendship that would last for decades. Jarett attended their wedding, threw a book-signing party for the ''Dreams From My Father'' author, generally assumed a big-sisterly presence in the young couple's lives and signed on as finance committee chair for Obama’s 2004 Senate election..

Over the years, the Obamas have regularly asked Jarrett for advice and she has been a part of almost all of their major decisions.  That didn’t change when Barack Obama decided to run for president. Obama sought Jarrett’s counsel throughout the campaign, describing her as the ultimate “utility player,” or someone who could step into any role. “I trust her completely,” Obama says. The two talked every day during the 2008 campaign, and she often urged him to follow his gut when pollsters and political strategists had other advice, the Chicago Tribune reported. "For his senatorial campaign, she made key introductions to the donor community, which helped the underfinanced candidate achieve legitimacy among a field of well-financed competitors."

A lawyer with a background in real estate, Jarrett worked in city government for nearly a decade before moving to The Habitat Co., a for-profit company that controls much of Chicago’s low-income housing.The company was involved in some controversy over its strategy of demolishing large housing projects and replacing them with smaller, mixed-income units.  

After Obama won, he named Jarrett co-chair of his transition team, where she researched and vetted candidates for top positions in his administration. 

She is so close to Obama that the president describes her as a "sibling." "Valerie is one of my oldest friends," Obama says. "Over time, I think our relationship evolved to the point where she's like a sibling to me...I trust her completely."

She is one of the most connected people in Chicago, and now national, Democratic politics. She is still close to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, whom she worked with for years, and she counts Chicago entrepreneur Penny Pritzker, Obama’s 2007 national finance chair, among her closest friends. She is closely tied into Obama’s Chicago network. Her father mentored Eric Whitaker and Anita Blanchard at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Both are good friends with the Obamas, and Blanchard is married to Martin Nesbitt, another close Obama friend, who served as the 2008 campaign treasurer. She served on the board of the University of Chicago Lab School with Michelle Obama, Martin Nesbitt and John W. Rogers, a friend and the former husband of ex-White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers. 

2. Eric Whitaker, a medical doctor and served as Illinois Department of Public Health director from 2003 to 2007 and now serves as executive vice president of the University of Chicago’s Medical Center. He is married to Dr. Cheryl Rucker-Whitaker, a cardiologist.

He encountered Obama on the basketball courts of Cambridge, Mass.  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.” In 2003, Whitaker was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Public Health by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Whitaker’s appointment may have been partially aided by a good word from his friend Obama to political fundraiser Tony Rezko.  Rezko, a real-estate developer, both raised money for Blagojevich and screened candidates for state administration posts. 

In October 2007, Whitaker left the Department of Public Health to return to his alma mater, the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Michelle Obama was a vice president. Whitaker was named to the new position of executive vice president for strategic affiliations and associate dean for community-based research to work on the hospital’s urban- health initiative, a program Michelle Obama helped create. The urban health initiative aims to find community doctors for low-income people on Chicago’s South Side. 

After Barack Obama announced his presidential candidacy in January 2007, Whitaker joined Obama friends as a fixture on the campaign trail.    

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. 

3. Martin "Marty" Nesbitt (the son of a steel mill worker and a nurse), one of Obama’s best friends was the treasurer of the Obama presidential campaign. Nesbitt is the CEO of the Parking Spot.  

In medical school in Chicago, Dr. Whitaker and Mr. Nesbitt’s wife, Anita Blanchard, were taken under the wing of Dr. James Bowman, Ms. Jarrett’s father and the first black tenured professor in his department.

"Before they became involved in national politics, they became involved in school politics. Mrs. Obama, Mr. Nesbitt, Mr. Rogers, Ms. Jarrett and another close friend, Susan Sher, all sat on the board of the Laboratory Schools, private elementary and secondary schools at the University of Chicago, and lobbied for admitting more students from lower-income families."

"Nesbitt is at the center of Obama’s Chicago social network. He was recruited to play basketball at Princeton by Craig RobinsonMichelle Obama’s brother, and has stayed friends with Robinson and the Obamas for years. Barack Obama is the godfather to Nesbitt’s youngest son, and Nesbitt’s oldest son played on a basketball team coached by Robinson at the YMCA in northern Chicago.

"In 1996, Nesbitt was hired by Penny Pritzker as vice president of Pritzker Realty Group, and one year later, Pritzker invested $50 million in The Parking Spot, an airport parking project that was Nesbitt’s brainchild. The company now makes more than $80 million a year in revenues.

"Nesbitt’s wife, Anita Blanchard, is an obstetrician at the University of Chicago Medical Center where Eric Whitaker also works and Michelle Obama worked as vice president.

"Blanchard delivered Obama’s two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Both Blanchard and Whitaker were mentored at the University of Chicago Medical School by James Bowman,Valerie Jarrett’s father. Nesbitt is also the chairman of the board of the Chicago Housing Authority, which works primarily with Habitat Co., run by Jarrett. Plus, Nesbitt was a regular in Obama’s pick-up basketball game during the 2008 campaign. Other regulars includedJohn W. Rogers (who used to be married to ex-White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers), body man Reggie Love and Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"Nesbitt’s biggest asset is that he's Obama’s close friend. Their families have spent vacations together and Nesbitt’s children often played with Obama’s daughters on Saturdays. During the 2008 campaign, Nesbitt and Obama got together on Sundays to watch football like they often did before the campaign began."

4. Ariel Investment founder John Rodgers (the son of mother who was a nurse and a father who was a driver), Chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments (since 1983), Co-chair of Barack Obama’s Inauguration Committee (November 2008 to January 2009); Co-chair of the Illinois Finance Committee for Barack Obama's presidential campaign (2007 to 2008), President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability (since 2010).  

"A longtime fundraiser for President Barack Obama, Rogers was one of the top presidential campaign bundlers, raising more than $500,000. He’s also a friend. In the early 1990s, Rogers got to know Obama well, working on a voter registration drive in the African-American wards of Chicago. In time, the relationship deepened because Obama married the “little sister” of Rogers' buddy Craig Robinson, a Princeton basketball teammate."

5.  David Axelrod, the political chief strategist of Jewish origin who was at the operational heart of the Barack Obama Pesidential campaign. He is a son of a New York City psychologist father and a journalist-turned advertising executive mother. He grew up in a middle-class Jewish household in New York's Stuyvesant Town neighborhood. 

"He helped to run Obama’s campaign for the US Senate in 2004 and was also credited with helping to craft the powerful Democratic convention speech in July 2004 that put him squarely on the national political stage."

6. Source of Political Funding

Two Jewish richest families were behind Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign - the Pritzker (11 of the family members were on the Forbes 400 list of "The 400 Richest Americans 2009") and the Crown families (which controls large stakes in Maytag, Hilton Hotels, Alltell, Aspen Skiing Company, New York's Rockefeller Center, and pro basketball's Chicago Bulls).

No matter how much they emphasized their differences from one another on the campaign trail, then Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain shared a common denominator: Jewish fundraisers: Penny Pritzker served as Obama’s national finance chair, and Elliott Broidy was the Republican National Committee finance committee chairman.

Among the Jewish bundlers (i.e fundraisers who assemble large donors to contribute) is Alan D. Solomont, a longtime Bill Clinton fundraiser, who was Obama’s northeast finance director. Solomont, head of Solomont Bailis Ventures, led a group that raised $35 million for John Kerry in 2004. Obama was also supported by George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management, LLC, and a well-known financier of liberal causes. Soros bankrolled and gave $18 million to support various Democratic groups opposing President Bush’s 2004 re-election.

Billionaire real estate magnate and Jewish Penny Pritzker of Chicago’s Pritzker family, one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Chief Executive Officer for Pritzker Realty (since 1995), board chair of TransUnion credit reporting agency, board member of Global Hyatt Corporation, LaSalle Bank Corporation and The Parking Spot. She was the Campaign Finance Chair for Barack Obama (2007 to 2008).

Penny Pritzker is Chicago-based Hyatt Hotel billionaire heiress and the chairwoman of Classic Residence by Hyatt. The Pritzker family is one of America's wealthiest, and has been near the top of Forbes magazine's "America's Richest Families" list since the magazine began in 1982. The family is most famous for owning the Hyatt hotel chain, (which in twelve years grew from a single unit to a chain of 14 hotels and 40 motels) and the Marmon Group, a conglomerate of manufacturing and industrial service companies. Other holdings have included the Superior Bank of Chicago, the TransUnion Credit Bureau and the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

"Pritzker had never run a political fundraising machine before. In early 2007, she met with 40 of Obama’s wealthiest backers, many of whom were long-time fundraisers. She helped him raise a record $750 million from a dizzying array of donors.

"Obama’s huge fundraising advantage not only gave him clout during the primaries against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), but also provided the means to bypass federal funding for the general election and dramatically outspend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The Obama campaign raised an eye-popping sum, $150 million in September 2008 alone, allowing it to run television ads and pay for campaign offices in dozens of states that were out of play for 2004 presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

"In 1995, Penny Pritzker went into business with Martin Nesbitt, a former real-estate investor from Chicago, on a company called the Parking Spot, which was designed to handle remote parking lots for airports. In 1997, she invested $50 million in the company. Now, with more than 30,000 spaces in a dozen cities, the company generates more than $70 million in annual revenues.

"She worked on a development project with close Obama advisor and CEO of The Habitat Co. Valerie Jarrett. And she funded Martin Nesbitt’s entrepreneurial endeavor, The Parking Spot, which has turned into one of the largest airport parking companies in the country. She met Barack Obama and Michelle Obama through her kids, who played basketball at a clinic run by Craig Robinson, Michelle’s brother. 

"It was Nesbitt who first introduced Pritzker to Barack Obama. Nesbitt convinced Pritzker to bring her children to a basketball clinic for elementary school-age children at the YMCA.Craig Robinson, a former Morgan Stanley bond trader who now coaches basketball at Oregon State and is also Michelle Obama’s brother, ran the clinic. Barack Obama, who is godfather to Nesbitt’s son, often came with Michelle to watch. Pritzker’s kids also attended the Lab School in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where the Obamas lived, and Michelle is on the school’s board.

"The two families become close, and spent an increasing amount of time together. In 2002, at the Pritzkers’ summer home in Michigan, 
Barack Obama told Penny and her husband, Bryan Traubert, that he was planning on running for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and wanted their support. “It took about no time for us to say that this is something that we wanted to do,” Pritzker said, despite the fact that Obama was a longshot to win at that time." -

Industrial magnate and Jewish James Crown, President of Henry Crown and Company, a private investment company. He is a director of JPMorgan Chase & Co., General Dynamics and Sara Lee as well as being the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the University of Chicago and was the co-chair of the Illinois finance committee for 2007 Obama's Presidential campaign.

He is son of Lester Crown a perennial member of the Forbes 400 list since 1982. Lester controls family holdings, including large stakes in Maytag, Hilton Hotels, Alltell, Aspen Skiing Company, New York's Rockefeller Center, and pro basketball's Chicago Bulls. He also holds a stake in the New York Yankees, being a Partner since 1973. Presumably, the large stake held in Bank One at the time of the 2003 Forbes 400 listing has converted to JPMorgan Chase stock and was derived from an interest in First Chicago, which was enumerated in the 1998 Forbes 400 list as First Chicago NBD shares. He is a major benefactor of Jewish charities, universities and the Aspen Institute. He is the chairman of the Commercial Club of Chicago and Chicago Council on Global Affairs. 

The jewels of Henry Crown and Company shine on like crazy diamonds. Controlled by Chicago's Crown family, Henry Crown and Company is an investment firm that owns or has interests in a variety of business assets. These holdings include stakes in sports teams (the Chicago Bulls and the New York Yankees), leisure (Aspen Skiing Company), banking (Chase), and real estate (Rockefeller Center). The Crown family, worth an estimated $4.8 billion, ranked #75 on the 2008 Forbes magazine's List of Richest Americans and are prominent Chicago-area philanthropists. The Crown family are primary figures in the “military-industrial” complex as longtime controllers of the General Dynamics arms giant. The Crowns have bankrolled institutions in Israel central to the development of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

In a 2008 letter to "a large number of Jewish voters", Lester Crown expressed his support for Barack Obama, the Democratic Presidential Candidate: "While my involvement in politics is motivated by a variety of issues, there is one issue that is fundamental: My deep commitment to Israel and to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship that strengthens both Israel's security and its efforts to seek peace," Crown wrote. "I am writing to share with you my confidence that Senator Barack Obama's stellar record on Israel gives me great comfort that, as President, he will be the friend to Israel that we all want to see in the White House - stalwart in his defense of Israel's security, and committed to helping Israel achieve peace with its neighbors." -

Early Outreach

Obama's first mentor was Gerald Kellman ("Marty Kaufman" in Obama's semi-autobiographical "Dreams From my Father"). Kellman is a community organizer who hired Obama in 1985.    

At a very early stage of his political life, Obama reached out to the Jewish community. In 1994, he received the backing of Alan Solow, an American lawyer, Jewish leader and philanthropist for his 1996 Illinois. He is a partner at DLA Piper's bankruptcy group based in Chicago, and a Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. At the time, Solow resided in Obama's South Side of Chicago district. This support continued with the Senate campaign and played an important role in the Presidential campaign, helping gather Jewish support for the candidate. He was also one of the bundlers (major financial backers) of the Obama campaign, having contributed over half a million dollars. Solow is credited with calling Barack Obama "the first Jewish president". In 2008, he was quoted: "I said with a smile that he will be the first Jewish president. He also has a deep understanding of issues that confront Israel and the Jewish community." He also traveled with Obama to Israel in a highly publicized visit in 2007. In 2004 for the US Senate run, he received the backing Robert Schrayer, a Jewish Chicago-based philanthropist. 





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