Michelle chafed at Daley, Hynes, Madigan power lock
By LYNN SWEET email@example.com January 8, 2012 12:16PM
Michelle Obama | AP
Updated: February 10, 2012 8:48AM
WASHINGTON— When Michelle Obama worked in Mayor Daley’s City Hall in the early 1990s, she was “distressed” by how a small group of “white Irish Catholic” families — the Daleys, the Hynes and the Madigans — “locked up” power in Illinois.
And as she prepared to become first lady, Mrs. Obama naively wanted to delay a move into the White House for six months, so her daughters could finish the school year. Her initial thought was to “commute” to the White House from her South Side home.
And Marty Nesbitt, one of President Obama’s best friends, had been recruited to run for Chicago mayor by African-American leaders — but never ended up challenging Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama’s chief of staff who went on to win City Hall.
Details about Mrs. Obama’s initial reluctance to embrace her new life, her time in City Hall, the influence she has in the White House, tensions between Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Emanuel and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs — are in a new book about the first couple by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor.
The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained a copy of The Obamas, to be published Tuesday. Kantor hits Chicago for an East Lake Shore Drive book party on Jan. 16; the next day, Jan. 17, she headlines a 6 p.m. event at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State.
Mrs. Obama worked in the Daley administration between Sept. 16, 1991, and April 30, 1993, according to City of Chicago personnel records. She was hired by Jarrett, then Daley’s deputy chief of staff.
Kantor writes Mrs. Obama “disapproved of how closely Daley held power, surrounding himself with three or four people who seemed to let few outsiders in — a concern she would echo years later with her own husband.
“…She particularly resented the way power in Illinois was locked up generation after generation by a small group of families, all white Irish Catholic — the Daleys in Chicago, the Hynes and Madigans statewide.”
When Jarrett was forced out of City Hall in 1995 — even though she was close to Daley — “the Obamas were horrified, their worst suspicions about the world confirmed.”
Jarrett, Gibbs, Obama’s top strategist David Axelrod, Mrs. Obama’s former chief of staff Susan Sher and Chicago pals Eric Whitaker and Marty Nesbitt “gave me many hours of interview time each,” Kantor wrote in her acknowledgements. In all, Kantor got the cooperation of 33 current and former members of the Obama administration and close friends.
Still, with reports about issues in the administration — and an Emanuel who did not welcome Mrs. Obama’s influence — the Obama White House gave the book a frosty reception.
“The book, an overdramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “The author last interviewed the Obamas in 2009 for a magazine piece, and did not interview them for this book. The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and first lady, reflect little more than the author’s own thoughts. These secondhand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated.”
Camille Johnston, Mrs. Obama’s former communications chief, told the Sun-Times, “We had some disagreements over how certain things would be handled, but in the end we all got back to the place Mrs. Obama had set at the onset: nothing on my agenda is more important than what’s on his.”