CHICAGO - It turns out there's much more to Valerie Jarrett's story than being an Obama insider. Here are a few insights from her new book, "Finding My Voice."
The Robert Taylor Homes were named for Jarrett's grandfather - and she played a role in the decision to demolish them. Jarrett is the granddaughter of Robert Rochon Taylor, the first African-American chair of the Chicago Housing Authority board. His name was given to the sprawling set of high-rise public housing complexes in Bronzeville that eventually became known for poverty and violence.
But years later, while working for the city, Jarrett played a role in reimagining public housing as mixed-income communities. She was among decision-makers who agreed to demolish the Robert Taylor Homes and other public housing complexes.
Born in Iran, she had a British accent when she moved to Chicago as a child. Jarrett's father was noted physician James Bowman, who was also a professor of pathology at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. Her mother, Barbara Bowman, is an early childhood education expert and co-founder of the Erikson Institute, where at 90, she is still active.
But early in his career, Jarrett's father wasn't content with the limited opportunities available to a black man, and the couple relocated to Iran. A stint in London followed before the family returned to Chicago when Jarrett was about 5. Her light skin, red hair and British accent all contributed, she wrote, to making her a target of bullying at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary in South Kenwood. "So I dropped the British accent in less than a week," she said.
Some colleagues thought she was a 'sellout' for staying at City Hall when Richard M. Daley became mayor. Early in her career, Jarrett left a law firm and took a pay cut to go work for Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor. She said there was intense pressure to leave when Daley eventually became mayor after Washington's death. But Jarrett wrote she was satisfied that Daley "continued (Washington's) legacy in many ways" and differentiated his leadership style from his father's, which she said "left most black Chicagoans feeling powerless."
One day in 1991, Daley had Jarrett paged - she was at Marshall Field's on her lunch break when she got the message - and, though he apparently didn't remember having met Jarrett a few years before, abruptly offered her a job as his deputy chief of staff. She was only in that job a few months before Daley named her planning and development commissioner.
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Meeting the Obamas. Her time at City Hall was important for one other big reason: She met the Obamas, before they were the Obamas. Jarrett interviewed a young lawyer, Michelle Robinson, for a position with city government, but Robinson wanted Jarrett to meet her fiance, Barack Obama, before deciding if she'd leave her private-sector job. The three had dinner together, and it led to a long, tight-knit friendship that continued as Obama was elected president and brought Jarrett to the White House as his senior adviser.
Jarrett stayed at the White House for Obama's entire two terms, becoming his longest-serving adviser. She maintains the same title for the Obama Foundation, which is planning the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago's South Side.
Rahm's bombast. Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel worked in the Obama White House, too, and Jarrett recalls him being, well, loud.
"His bombastic style of leadership was intimidating to many," Jarrett wrote. "He let off steam by screaming, which was unsettling not just for those to whom it was directed, but to anyone in earshot."
Obama eventually had a talk with Emanuel about improving the work environment.
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