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As chief of staff, Daley may help Obama mend ties with Wall Street

His broad range of experience includes politics, government and business.

January 07, 2011|Christi Parsons

WASHINGTON — William Daley was born with one of the most fortunate family names in Democratic politics. But life has not been one long lucky streak for the man who, for instance, chaired Al Gore's failed presidential campaign in 2000.

Still, when President Obama chose the youngest son of Chicago's legendary mayoral dynasty as his new chief of staff Thursday, he picked someone known as an achiever in politics, government and business.

Daley is a "steady-as-you-go" executive who brings practical experience to a White House that needs it, said Sam Skinner, who was a chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush and who has known Daley for years.

"Bill's got a broad portfolio of experience," said Skinner, a prominent Chicago business executive. "All of that brings a dimension and experience that the administration doesn't really have currently."

A lawyer by training, Daley, 62, is an executive at JP Morgan Chase and a director at several major companies.

That might be seen as a bad pedigree by a president with a penchant for bashing Wall Street. These days, however, Obama is looking to mend some of those relations, collaborate with Republicans and work with business leaders.

Daley's early reception indicates he is likely to be an asset. Business leaders greeted his appointment warmly.

And despite a history of differences with Daley, progressive leaders have refrained from an all-out attack. Daley disagreed with Obama's healthcare plan and earlier infuriated liberals by helping President Clinton pass the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

As Commerce secretary, he shepherded other trade policies, including most-favored-nation status for China.

In the late 1990s, the head of the AFL-CIO accused Daley of standing "squarely on the opposite side of working families."

The more restrained response this week reflects liberals' awareness that Obama is tacking toward the center, on his own. And in the usually amiable, easy-going Daley, they hope at least to get a hearing.

"There's reason for hope and reason to be concerned," said David E. Bonior, the former Democratic House whip who led the fight against NAFTA, an issue that Bonior said produced lingering disenchantment.

"One of the real assets he brings to the job is his accessibility and his demeanor, which is quite the opposite of Rahm Emanuel," Bonior added.

In that sense, Daley is an ironic replacement for Emanuel, the former chief of staff. Emanuel has returned to Chicago to seek the mayor's office. That post is being vacated by Daley's brother, Richard M. Daley, whose retirement set the entire chain of events in motion.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, thinks Daley brings "a new set of eyes," and that that's a good idea for Obama at the middle of his term. Daley's arrival signals that "the economy is the No. 1 issue," Durbin said.

The appointment was timed to coincide with the Republican takeover of the House and Obama's shift into campaign mode, something Daley knows well.

Besides advising his brother, Daley was an informal advisor to Vice President Joe Biden during his earlier presidential considerations, as well as to Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. He was a key architect of Gore's run for the White House.

In the years after Gore's loss, Daley turned more to business. As president of telecommunications giant SBC in 2003, he helped push through a state measure giving the company broad latitude to raise its prices. National Democrats howled about the anti-consumer looks of it.

Obama voted with citizen groups against the bill.

Nonetheless, Daley has been approached by the Obama team more than once during the administration, including with an offer to serve as ambassador to China.

But Daley opted not to leave the corporate world, where he most recently worked for JP Morgan Chase. According to corporate disclosures, he also earns cash and stock awards through board positions at other companies.

Besides that, he told friends, he liked his lifestyle and wasn't ready to make a change. He and his new wife, Bernie Keller, recently bought a nearly $3-million condo in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.

But over the holidays, Daley's name came up again, as Obama and interim Chief of Staff Peter Rouse closed in on decisions about how to reshape the White House staff.

In his final set of recommendations, one senior administration official said, Rouse told Obama he shouldn't pass up the chance to appoint Daley.

Obama personally made the request. And this time, Daley didn't say no.


Chicago Tribune staff writers Bruce Japsen in Chicago and Katherine Skiba in Washington contributed to this report.

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