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Rogers first of the high profile Chicagoans in Obama White House to depart

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WASHINGTON -- White House social secretary Desiree Rogers told me Friday she will step down next month, after presiding over 330 events in the White House in 14 months.

Rogers, a friend of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, is part of a high-profile group of Chicagoans in the Obama White House -- along with senior advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and Susan Sher, Mrs. Obama's chief of staff. Rogers will be the first Chicagoan to leave.

I've been told by several sources that Rogers will be replaced by Julianna Smoot, the chief of staff to the U.S. trade representative who ran the Obama presidential campaign's fund-raising operation. The social office is run out of Mrs. Obama's East Wing.

In an exclusive interview, Rogers told me she is resigning after achieving a major goal of the first couple -- opening up the White House to make it a more inclusive "people's house," offering more access for everyday people.

"As we turn the corner on the first year," Rogers told me, "this is a good time for me to explore opportunities in the corporate world."

Rogers told me it has been "an honor and a privilege to serve this president and first lady, in what has certainly been a historic presidency."

"When I took on this assignment, we talked about the importance of creating the people's house. My work was really to create this framework," she told me.

"I think I completed that work. Our office has been able to lay the foundation for what will be known as the 'people's house,' and it has already taken shape."

Rogers' tenure was marked by high points -- she was a moving force behind a White House music series -- and the low point, when the Obamas' first state dinner, for the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was crashed by a publicity-seeking couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi.

Though the Secret Service immediately said the Nov. 24 breach was its fault -- agents did not follow security protocols -- critics pounced on Rogers for not posting staffers at the East Wing entrance. The controversy swelled when a House committee held a hearing on the incident and the White House declined to let Rogers testify.

Chicagoans knew Rogers, 50, as a former Illinois Lottery director, Peoples Energy chief and Allstate Financial executive, a major social and civic figure. The glamorous Rogers, who was the first African-American social secretary, came to Washington with a splash of upbeat publicity, which in this town always has backfire potential down the road.

The Rogers I saw in Washington had her designer sleeves rolled up, ready to go to work for the Obamas.

I asked Rogers if the Salahi episode, where she came under fire, was a factor in her resignation. "The incident at the state dinner was not a deciding factor," she told me. "But it did show me a side of the job and of Washington that I had not seen before."

Jarrett told me Friday afternoon that Rogers had decided to leave the White House even before the state dinner. "She told me in November that she had decided to return to the private sector in the not-too-distant future," Jarrett said. In Washington, Rogers, Jarrett and Sher have apartments in the same Georgetown building.

After I spoke to Rogers, the Obamas said in a statement, "We are enormously grateful to Desiree Rogers for the terrific job she's done as the White House social secretary.

"When she took this position, we asked Desiree to help make sure that the White House truly is the people's house, and she did that by welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers. She organized hundreds of fun and creative events during her time here, and we will miss her. We thank her again for her service and wish her all the best in her future endeavors."

1 Comment

sorry to see such an intelligent black woman leave her post as social secretary. She opened up the the White House like no others before her did. I hope the next secretary will continue in her path.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 27, 2010 1:10 PM.

Obama civil rights concert, a Desiree Rogers production was the previous entry in this blog.

Desiree Rogers, resigning as White House Social Secretary, replaced by Julianna Smoot is the next entry in this blog.

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