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Beware Valerie Jarrett

Look out, Washington, it appears that Valerie Jarrett will be heading the newly combined offices of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison. In light of the influence Jarrett’s office will have over the spending priorities of the Obama White House, Marc Ambinder is predicting Jarrett will, after Rahm Emanuel, wind up being the second most important person in this administration.

This seems like a safe bet. For years now, neither Obama has made much of a move without Jarrett’s input. (Life/career counselor is, in fact, a role Jarrett has long played for much of her extensive network of friends and family.) Jarrett is an exceedingly savvy political operator and, the unflappable, ladylike manner notwithstanding, a famously tough cookie.

I must admit to being a huge Jarrett fan--and not just because she took me on a grand tour of Chicago’s finer housing projects this summer. And from my talks with Jarrett's friends, family, and colleagues, there are two oft-mentioned character traits that future supplicants to the new IGA/OPL might want to keep in mind:

1. Jarrett is famous for her highly developed bullshit detector. On the campaign, she was often looked to by the candidate, among others, for a quick read on people, including potential hires. If she senses that your motives are questionable or your manner untrustworthy, you and your organization will be kept at arm’s length.

2. Though accustomed to dealing with demanding, disgruntled, and even outraged constituents (she was once chair of the Chicago Transit Authority, for god's sake), Jarrett does not suffer disrespect well. A former colleague of hers recalled for me an episode from Jarrett’s early days as head of the Chicago planning office in which the pompous president of a local university came in to archly announce that he and his very important board of directors had arranged for a parking lot to be built adjoining the campus. Annoyed by the man’s bluster and disregard for proper procedure, Jarrett listened politely, then went back to her office, closed the door, and declared that the parking lot would be built "over [her] dead body." A few phone calls and a couple of days later, the project was indeed deader than disco.

Not that anyone around this town would ever think about BS-ing or disrespecting one of the POTUS’s best friends. I’m just saying…

--Michelle Cottle

Click here to read Cottle's take on Jarrett's number two.