Chicago woman to be Michelle Obama’s new chief of staff
By LYNN SWEET Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief January 5, 2011 1:06PM
WASHINGTON — Tina Tchen, a Chicago attorney who joined the Obama White House in 2009, will be First Lady Michelle Obama’s new chief of staff, replacing Susan Sher, who will be returning to Chicago after she steps down in a few weeks, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Tchen’s name was always at the top of the list since Sher announced her departure last year. “A number of people were considered but I think from the perspective of the first lady, this was her enthusiastic choice,” Sher told me in an interview Wednesday morning.
Mrs. Obama will continue with her main agenda items, Tchen said, including marking the first anniversary of her “Let’s Move!” anti-childhood obesity drive and helping military families. “What the East Wing does is very much shaped by her interests and passions as have been seen for the last two years, so I see most of myself as continuing to serve her and the administration and carrying that vision out,” Tchen said.
Tchen, 54, is part of a close circle of Chicagoans in the White House; she works under Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett as the Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Tchen comes on board as William Daley, the former Commerce Secretary and brother of Mayor Daley, may be tapped as White House chief of staff—to replace Rahm Emanuel, who created the vacancy when he quit in October to run for mayor. Obama is expected to make a chief of staff decision soon—and it will either be, I’m told Daley or interim chief of staff Pete Rouse.
In stepping up to the chief of staff post, Mrs. Obama brings to her team a familiar figure whose West Wing work already brings her in close contact with the East Wing. Tchen becomes Mrs. Obama’s third chief of staff; the first Jackie Norris, worked Mrs. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, but did not have the close personal chemistry Mrs. Obama shared with Sher and Jarrett.
Tchen, Jarrett, Sher and Mrs. Obama have all known each other for years, through Chicago politics and Mayor Daley’s City Hall. Tchen was also a major fund-raiser for the Obama presidential campaign—a “superbundler” who raised at least $200,000 for the campaign.
Tchen told me in an interview on Wednesday morning, “When you do Democratic politics, progressive politics in Chicago, it is not that big a community and you all get to know each other.” She met Mrs. Obama sometime “in the early 80s, as we were doing that kind of work, political progressive grassroots work.”
Tchen will keep her portfolio as Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Sher also had a dual position, serving in Jarrett’s operation as liaison to the Jewish community.
Mrs. Obama said in a statement, “I am thrilled to welcome Tina to my team. I have admired her work with the White House Council on Women and Girls and her leadership with the Office of Public Engagement. Tina’s tenure at the White House has focused on ensuring that communities across the country have a voice and a presence at the White House, and her office has worked closely with mine to develop many of our outreach efforts, so she was the natural choice for this role. We particularly share a commitment to nurturing young women and utilizing the White House as a platform for education and inclusion, and I look forward to continuing that work together.
“As sad as I am to see Susan go, I always knew she would return to her family and her community in Chicago. She arrived here in January of 2009 intending only to stay for a year and her extended tenure as my Chief of Staff has been a gift. She has led my team with an even hand and a clear vision and I am so grateful to her and her family for her time here in Washington.
“When selecting a replacement, I looked for someone who had the right experience to lead my team and am grateful to bring on Tina, whom I’ve known and respected for 20 years. Tina’s success leading the Office of Public Engagement, reaching out to people across the country and encouraging Americans from all walks of life to feel connected to this White House, makes her uniquely qualified to step up to this position. I look forward to working with her in the years ahead to develop effective strategies for the Let’s Move! campaign, to broaden our work on behalf of military families, to continue the arts and cultural events in the White House, and to advance our international agenda.”
Before moving to Washington at the start of the Obama administration in 2009, Tchen was a partner in the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as a litigation specialist. She also was appointed by Mayor Daley in 2003 to be a member of the Chicago Public Library Board.