WASHINGTON – The Obama Foundation on Monday tapped Michael Strautmanis – who has long and deep ties to President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett – to lead its public outreach drive.
Strautmanis’ hiring is a major development for the foundation, which has had only slight engagement with the city and communities surrounding the site of the Obama Presidential Center, to be either in Washington or Jackson parks on the South Side.
The foundation also on Monday announced it was moving to Hyde Park from 300 E. Randolph, delivering its first economic shot-in-the arm to the neighborhood near the Obama Chicago home.
Strautmanis brings to the foundation more than his title, which will be “vice president of civic engagement.”
He will be the public face of the foundation, bringing his vast personal and institutional knowledge about the first couple, the workings of the Obama White House and the legacy issues the Obamas’ will pursue after Barack Obama’s second term ends in January 2017.
The foundation said Strautmanis was hired after a national search led by a non-profit head-hunting firm, Koya Leadership Partners. Whatever his competition was for the post, Strautmanis goes into the job with a unique resume incredibly suited to being in the Obama foundation leadership.
Strautmanis was raised in Uptown and is a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep. He first entered the Obama world as a paralegal for Michelle Obama when she was at the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. That’s the firm where Obama met Michelle when he spent a summer there between his second and third year at Harvard Law School.
Mrs. Obama encouraged Strautmanis to attend law school and he did, picking up a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his undergrad alma mater.
Then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. hired Strautmanis at the very beginning of his Senate stint to be his chief counsel, later moving him up to be deputy chief of staff. Jarrett met Strautmanis when he was in the Senate office; he later worked closely with her during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
After Obama won his first term, Strautmanis moved over to the transition team as director of public liaison and intergovernmental affairs. After Obama named Jarrett as a Senior Advisor, running the White House Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, Strautmanis joined her operation as her chief of staff.
Strautmanis left the White House in 2013 to become vice president for corporate citizenship for the Walt Disney Co., headquartered outside Los Angeles.
“I’m thrilled to come home to Chicago and join the stellar team at The Obama Foundation,” said Strautmanis in a statement.
“Civic engagement has been at the center of President Obama’s career in public service, from his start as a community organizer on the South Side all the way to the White House. I am honored to bring his unique and effective approach to civic and social change to The Foundation’s work with the vibrant community on the South Side, along with other communities across the city and beyond.”
Robbin Cohen, the foundation executive director said in a statement: “We are delighted to have Michael join The Foundation, and we look forward to his leadership on how to best engage the dynamic South Side and greater Chicagoland community throughout the construction of the Obama Presidential Center and beyond.
“This is an exciting time for The Obama Foundation, and we have a lot of work to do in the months and years ahead. We are pleased to be expanding our team, and Michael will help us continue to lay the groundwork for the post-presidential activities of the President and First Lady.”
FOUNDATION MOVING TO HYDE PARK
Also on Monday, the Chicago-based foundation announced it was moving to the new Harper Court redevelopment on 53rd Street, with offices opening in the new Harper Court Tower in January.
The foundation headquarters currently is in the offices of Foundation chair Martin Nesbitt, the founder of The Vistria Group, 300 E. Randolph St.
The University of Chicago, which won the bidding for the Obama Center, is providing the space in the tower, with more ground-floor footage to be added later next year.
The redeveloped Harper Court is a partnership between the university and the city. The mixed-use complex at 53rd and Lake Park Avenue will be anchored by the 150,000-square foot University of Chicago tower and include a hotel, retail and other commercial space.
Moving the foundation to Hyde Park — less than a mile from the Obama home, at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. in Kenwood — will be the first of what the foundation and U. of C. officials say will be many economic jolts the Obama Presidential Center brings to the South Side.