WASHINGTON — With only a few months left at the White House to get everyone in, President Barack Obama on Friday night hosted a group of friends from Chicago and Springfield who were with him when he launched his political career.
“I think he wanted to, and this is what he said, invite people who had helped him early in his political career and who he had worked with during that period of time, to a reception in the White House before his term was up,” said John Bouman, the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, who was at the reception.
Bowman worked with Obama on poverty issues when he was a state senator in Springfield and a U.S. senator in Washington.
“I think it was essentially a thank-you to his friends from Illinois . . . He was extremely patient. Everybody had a few minutes with him who wanted it,” Bouman said.
Dan Shoman, who managed Obama’s 2000 House race and advised his Senate bid, had a hand in organizing the reunion.
Among the attendees: former Senate President Emil Jones, who gave a green, state senator a boost early in his career, state Senate President John Cullerton, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, former state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, state Sen. Mattie Hunter, state Rep. Will Davis, state Sen. Terry Link, former state Sen. Denny Jacobs, Ald. Joe Moore, Ald. Leslie Hairston, Ald. Brendan Reilly and former Ald. Will Burns.
And more: State Sen. Omar Aquino, state Sen. James Clayborne, state Sen. William Haine, state Sen. Don Harmon, state Sen. Emil Jones III, state Sen. Iris Martinez and state Sen. Chris Nybo, the lone Republican, who boosted Obama when he made what turned out to be a failed bid for Congress.
Also, Audra Wilson, who worked on Obama’s Senate campaign, former state Rep. Julie Hamos, activist Marilyn Katz, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Robin Kelly and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who served in the state Senate with Obama.
From the White House, Chicagoans Valerie Jarrett, who has been with Obama and first lady Michelle from the start — and who will remain until the last day of the Obama presidency — was there along with Tina Tchen, the first lady’s chief of staff.
Obama White House folks also included Susan Sher, Mrs. Obama’s former chief of staff and Anita Decker Breckenridge, the Kenilworth native who has been Obama since he was a senator who is now a White House Deputy Chief of Staff. Breckenridge oversees the Obama post-presidential portfolio.
The private reception was not on Obama’s schedule. The invites went out several weeks ago. The event was moved back a few hours because Obama was flying back from Israel, where he attended the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The reception menu included Chicago inspired deep dish pizza squares.
Folks were asked to check their cell phones at the door. Mrs. Obama did not attend the event.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said, “Friday evening the President hosted a private social gathering with friends, former colleagues and early supporters from Illinois in the White House.”
Obama returns to Chicago next Friday for a rare weekend back in the city – and when the Cubs are at Wrigley Field for the playoffs. Obama headlines a fundraiser for House Democrats on Friday with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; an event on Sunday for Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth and a still-in-the-works reception to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign.