I am salivating at the prospects of an Obama administration and what it means for Cabinet appointments (including recent unconfirmed rumours that John Kerry is vying for Secretary of State, and that RFK Jr could be appointed head of the EPA), but the announcements concerning these will not be done immediately. So I am instead going to bide my time examining another team of relative importance in the early stages, as we prepare for an Obama administration, and the transition into the White House.
Below is a collection of short profiles on each of the main members of that team.
Chris Lu – Executive Director
Until now Obama's Legislative Director for the state of Delaware, Chris Lu was a Harvard Law School classmate. He has served as an advisor for Obama both on the campaign trail, and back in his Senate office in DC.
Key quote: Much of Obama’s allure is that he is new and exciting enough to be a sort of blank canvas onto which activists of all kinds can paint their aspirations. Says Chris Lu, his legislative director, "He’s like a Rorschach test—you see in him what you want."
Dan Pfeiffer – Communications Director
Pfeiffer started out as communications director for Tim Johnson in 2002, and then he moved on to become communications director for Tom Daschle's 2004 campaign. When that enterprise ended, Pfeiffer got a job with Evan Bayh's presidential campaign-in-waiting, and was only picked up by Obama after Bayh dropped out late last year.
Key quote: "Our economy wouldn't survive without the Internet, and cyber-security continues to represent one our most serious national security threats," Pfeiffer said. "It's extraordinary that someone who wants to be our president and our commander in chief doesn't know how to send an e-mail."
Stephanie Cutter – Chief Spokesperson
Stephanie Cutter is a long time Democratic strategist who got her start as communications director in John Kerry's 2004 campaign for president. She was brought into the Obama campaign in 2008, as Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, fighting against the smears aimed at her while simultaneously trying to soften her image.
Key quote (on the Biden/Palin debate): "I don't think it plays a role at all. I think it is insulting to suggest that it does. He debates women in the United States every single day," Cutter said.
Cassandra Butts – General Counsel
Butts is a graduate of Dick Gephardt's Senate office, and before taking a spot with the campaign, she worked at the Center for American Progress, one of the few progressive think tanks in Washington. Like Lu, she was a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's, and joined his team to oversee policy development before the election.
Key quote: "Barack was not and is not predictable. He's thoughtful. He'll tell you what he believes. But it isn't always what you expect."
Jim Messina – Personnel Director
Jim Messina was the top staffer for Senator Max Baucus since 2005 until this year, and has been a long time Montana Democratic political operative. He coordinated political policy and field operations for the campaign, expanding its 50-state operation to work with efficiency.
Key quote: "It’s going to be the biggest challenge of my life, but it’s also going to be something I deeply believe in," Messina said Monday. "With the bitter partisan divide we have in Washington, we need a president who will go past all that, and that’s why I’m going to Obama."
Patrick Gaspard – Associate Personnel Director
Patrick Gaspard started out as a New York labor official and the national field director for America's Coming Together during the 2004 election. He was accused of paying convicted felons to canvass homes and solicit private information from voters for GOTV efforts by the Associated Press in the same year, though they noted that such activity is not illegal. The McCain campaign predictably tried to use this to their advantage, but to no avail, when Gaspard was hired on as national political director for the campaign.
Key quote (when asked what he wants to have done two years from 2006): "That's the easiest question I've ever been asked – I want to begin to repair the imbalance in the Supreme Court by electing a Democratic President."
Christine Varney - Personnel Counsel
Christine A. Varney is an American lawyer and internet policy expert. She served in the Clinton Administration as a Federal Trade Commissioner and previously as Secretary to the Cabinet. She is currently a partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm Hogan and Hartson, where she leads the internet practice group.
Key quote: None found.
Melody Barnes – Co-Director of Agency Review
Melody Barnes is the Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress, and she served as chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate judiciary committee until 2004. As Kennedy’s chief counsel, she shaped civil rights, women’s health and reproductive rights, commercial law, and religious liberties laws, as well as executive branch and judicial appointments.
Key quote (on the sex-ed smear): "It's offensive and preposterous. That we would take such a serious matter of training our young children to defend themselves against sexual predators, which is actually the subject matter of the legislation at hand, and turn that into an ad about Barack Obama trying to teach 5-year-olds about sex before they can read, is absolutely preposterous."
Lisa Brown – Co-Director of Agency Review
Wrong Lisa Brown profiled. My apologies.
Phil Schiliro – Director of Congressional Relations
Phil Schiliro was Barack Obama's congressional liason during the long campaign, and was instrumental in the President Elect's coordinated response to the bailout crisis with Democratic leaders in Congress. Previously a staffer in Senator Tom Daschle's office, he was until earlier this year the Chief of Staff to California's Rep. Henry Waxman.
Key quote (during the bailout crisis):
Mills: "Hey.. What you doing back here?... Thought you were on the campaign trail."
Schiliro: "This is the campaign trail!"
Michael Strautmanis – Director of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs
Michael Strautmanis, was a senior Obama aide, and he happens to be Latvian-African-American. His father, Juris, was a member of Čikāgas piecīši, or the Chicago Five, a beloved, long-running Latvian-American pop group.
Key quote: Recording here.
Katy Kale – Director of Operations
Katy Kale was formerly a legislative correspondent and administrative director for Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown's office.
Key quote: None found.
Brad Kiley – Director of Operations
Brad Kiley has worked in Washington for 20 years, and he served as deputy assistant to the President for Management and Administration at the White House under President Clinton.
Key quote: None found.