WASHINGTON -- President Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, is launching an Institute of Politics at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, to create bipartisan programs bringing big names in politics to campus and internships for students.
"If years from now I run across young people who have participated in this Institute who are now writers and staffers and yes, candidates, we'll have done our job well," Axelrod said in a conference call on Wednesday.
The U. of C. institute will be largely modeled on Harvard University's Institute of Politics, housed in the Kennedy School of Government. Harvard's IOP brings together all kinds of figures involved in politics -- from political journalists to elected and appointed government officials and high level campaign operatives.
As at Harvard, Axelrod said he envisioned quarterly fellowships for political practioneers, programs and internships for U. of C. students.
Axelrod will be the founding director of the Institute starting in 2013; at present he is handling his last official campaign -- Obama's 2012 re-election bid. Axelrod joined the Harvard IOP board last year and will step down at the end of 2012.
A draw of the U. of C. IOP will be bringing political star power to the Hyde Park campus.
The Institute, said Axelrod, "will be making the University of Chicago a top destination for newsmakers and political actors."
To that point -- and to kick off the U. of C. IOP -- Axelrod lined up a Thursday panel to discuss the 2012 presidential election contest at the International House: ABC News George Stephanopolous; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; MSNBC host Rachel Maddow; GOP media consultant Alex Castellanos and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who picked up his undergraduate degree at the U. of C. in 1983. (The program is for students and invited guests.)
Axelrod -- who received his undergraduate degree in 1976 -- is a former Chicago Tribune political writer who switched to working for candidates, making his name at first as a top consultant for Senate, House and local campaigns. To take advantage of being in Chicago, Axelrod said the Institute will also have a focus on "urban politics."
Axelrod is just one of many people in the Obama orbit with deep ties to the U. of C. Obama taught at the law school; First lady Michelle was an executive at the medical center; daughters Malia and Sasha attended the Lab School; senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was on the U. of C. board and Mrs. Obama's former chief of staff, Susan Sher, is now a top honcho at the medical center.
With all those connections -- and with the Obama home not far from campus -- the U. of C. will likely be in the running to eventually house in whole or part the Obama Presidential Library. If and when that happens at the U. of C., Axelrod said, "we would look for ways to create synergy."
That's off in the future. Said Axelrod, "my goal right now is to help, encourage young people who are going to be, you know, the David Axelrods and better in the future."
Members of a U. of C. IOP advisory board include Republican media consultant Michael Murphy; historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Chicago native, political advisor Howard Wolfson, a U. of C. alum who now works for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and who was a strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, Obama 2012 campaign top deputy Stephanie Cutter and Brooks.