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Waiting on William Daley Decision: Tina Tchen picked for Michelle COS

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below, version running in Thursday print Sun-Times....

WASHINGTON--Tina Tchen, a Chicago attorney who joined the Obama White House in 2009, will be first lady Michelle Obama's new chief of staff, replacing Susan Sher, who will be returning to Chicago after she steps down in a few weeks.

And as President Obama firms up mid-term personnel changes, a decision is expected soon over whether former Commerce Secretary William Daley becomes the new chief of staff. Daley was reportedly meeting with Obama and others at the White House on Wednesday.

As expected, another job opened up Wednesday when press secretary Robert Gibbs announced he will leave the White House next month. As the Obama team heads toward the 2012 re-election campaign, Gibbs will remain part of the inner circle as an outside adviser.

Tchen's name was always at the top of the list since Sher announced her departure last year.

"A number of people were considered but I think from the perspective of the first lady, this was her enthusiastic choice," Sher told me in an interview Wednesday morning.

Mrs. Obama said in a statement, "I am thrilled to welcome Tina to my team."

Mrs. Obama will continue with her main agenda items, Tchen said, including marking the first anniversary of her "Let's Move!" anti-childhood obesity drive in a few weeks and helping military families.

"What the East Wing does is very much shaped by her interests and passions as have been seen for the last two years, so I see most of myself as continuing to serve her and the administration and carrying that vision out," Tchen said.

Sher and Tchen are already working together on a Jan. 19 state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. Sher, a former executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center, will leave the White House at the end of the month and is not sure yet what she will do; her husband, Neil Cohen, is a Cook County Circuit Court judge.

Tchen, 54, is part of a close circle of Chicagoans in the White House; she works under senior adviser Valerie Jarrett as the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Tchen will remain council director. Jarrett, a close friend of Sher's, told me Wednesday she suggested Tchen for the job.

In promoting Tchen, Mrs. Obama brings to her team a familiar figure whose West Wing work already puts her in close contact with the East Wing. Tchen becomes Mrs. Obama's third chief of staff; the first, Jackie Norris, worked with Mrs. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, but they did not have the close personal chemistry Mrs. Obama shared with Sher and Jarrett.

More than just a comfort factor, Jarrett said Tchen brings "trust, confidence, knowing that Tina shares our philosophy about public service and why we are here and her enthusiasm and passion for the issues which Mrs. Obama cares deeply about -- and she will be a terrific bridge between the East and the West Wing."

Tchen, Jarrett, Sher and Mrs. Obama have all known each other for years. Jarrett said she met Tchen more than 25 years ago, when both of them worked on the campaign of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.

Tchen told me in an interview on Wednesday morning, "When you do Democratic politics, progressive politics in Chicago, it is not that big a community and you all get to know each other."

Tchen was also a major fund-raiser for the Obama presidential campaign--a "superbundler" who raised at least $200,000 for the campaign. Tchen was a partner in the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. She also was appointed by Mayor Daley in 2003 to the Chicago Public Library Board.

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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 January 6, 2011 8:24 AM.

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