One advantage of a big, media-focused convention is that so many shadowy campaign "insiders" seek the spotlight. In Denver, one of Sen. Barack Obama's closest advisers has been making the media rounds: Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett has been part of Obama's inner circle since his days as an Illinois state senator. She identifies herself as a Chicago businesswoman, but according to Obama campaign advisers, she is much more than that.
She is Iranian-American, for one thing, and the Obama campaign has sought to keep her ties to Iran from press views, as it has also sought to keep her political background and deep and tangled business and personal relationship to the Obama family from sight. For example, while it's true that Jarrett is a business executive, she also has been a well-known political operative for Chicago Democrats back to her days working in the background as an adviser to late Chicago mayor Harold Washington, as well as the Daley family.
"She knows where are all the bodies have been buried in the past 30 or so years of Chicago politics and she knows all the tricks," says one longtime Democrat political consultant in Chicago. "If Obama had a political and financial godmother, it would be Valerie."
Jarrett, according to friends, gave Michelle Obama professional advice before she married Obama, and helped her with jobs. But more important, say Chicago Democrats who know Jarrett and Obama's history, and why the Obama campaign has desperately sought to keep Jarrett's role in the campaign under wraps, Jarrett may be to Obama what James McDougal was to Bill and Hillary Clinton. McDougall, a central figure in the Clinton's Whitewater Scandal, gave the Clintons the financial wherewithal to raise their national political visibility. "Jarrett has done that for Barack and Michelle three or four times over," says one insider, noting that Jarrett served as the CEO of a housing development company.
And Obama has returned the favor:
Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which developed and managed large housing projects in and around Chicago -- and in Obama's state legislative district -- that were subsidized by federal and state housing dollars, and which were ultimately seized by federal authorities for what were unlivable conditions. While overseeing the company that managed these housing facilities, Jarrett also worked with long-time Obama friend and convicted felon Tony Rezko in raising money for Obama's political career.
Obama campaign advisers have sought to have Jarrett fully vetted by the campaign to prepare for opposition research from the McCain campaign, fearing that she may have deeper and longstanding ties to financial entities associated with the subprime mortgage scandal.
"That and her ties to Chicago politicians and her Iranian background, and you have a potential nightmare," says a Democrat media consultant who worked for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Say what you want about Hillary, but she didn't have that kind of a triple threat on her team."