A former Clinton White House Chief
of Staff, creator of the left-wing Center for American Progress, leader
of Barack Obama's presidential transition team, and most powerful node
in the Obama public support network.
Podesta was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1949. His grandparents
immigrated to America from Italy and Greece, and his father left high
school after one year to take a factory job and support his family.
John has been a lifelong practicing Catholic.
Podesta graduated in 1971 from Knox College in
Illinois and got his law degree at Georgetown University Law School in
He then worked as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Honors
Program in the Land and Natural Resources Division (1976-1977), as a
Special Assistant to the Director of ACTION, the federal volunteer
Little-known fact: Podesta's political
career actually began
while he was still an undergraduate, working with Bill Clinton in 1970
on Democrat Joe Duffy’s unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat from
Connecticut. You don't get official points for that.
began as a Capitol Hill aide in 1979, counsel
to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
(D-Mass). Kennedy’s chief committee aide was
Stephen Breyer, now a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
When Republicans won the Senate majority in 1980, Podesta served as
minority counsel in bitter partisan fights,
where his political acumen
impressed even his opponents.
Podesta became chief counsel to the Senate
Agriculture Committee (1987-1988)
under Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
1988 he left the Senate to found a powerhouse
lobbying firm with his brother, Tony (right),
known as Podesta Associates, Inc.
He returned to the Hill as a counselor to Senate Majority Leader
Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) (1995 to 1996).
Later, many of Obama’s campaign hands came from Daschle’s circle,
then appointed to White House
posts on Podesta's recommendation.
was named Clinton chief of staff in October 1998 on the eve of the
president’s impeachment. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
said, ''They'd be stupid not to put him in there, because he's
got all the ability in the world. He's a very loyal, dedicated man.”
Podesta gained a reputation in the White House as
a hard-working man of rare humor (an "acerbic
wit," he says) who made both Democrats
and Republicans comfortable.
Friends called him "a straight-shooter with a low threshold for
nonsense." Nonsense or
failure to do the job called forth a
"mean, surly presence" his White House colleagues nicknamed "Skippy," to
be avoided at all costs. The alter-ego
was famous for dressing down subordinates who
didn’t perform, and is said
to have followed him to his CEO position at the Center for American
Personal: He is
married to Mary S. Podesta, a Washington, D.C. attorney. They have three
children. He describes himself as "an avid runner and a dedicated fan of
roller coasters" and is known as a UFO buff and devotee of Fox TV’s
nine-season sci-fi hit, "The X Files."
Podesta’s greatest political achievement
is the creation of the progressive think-tank
Center for American Progress (CAP). It
fulfills the liberal craving for an institution to match the
conservative Heritage Foundation. CAP writes policy papers, hosts
ThinkProgress.com and MicCheckRadio.org, which sends out a daily radio
feed to liberal stations.
While other leftists
simply wanted to repackage their message,
Podesta saw that it was necessary to reinvent
liberal ideas entirely. He has explored new ideas and
new policies as well as new technology, at which he excels.
Podesta carved out a niche for
himself at the nexus between technology and law during his
White House years. This lasting interest
carried over into his management of the Center for American Progress,
reflected in his sponsorship and publication of the controversial
The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio
- a co-author of the talk radio document - as a Senior Fellow.
He is also very interested in the
environment, having served on the board of the League of Conservation
Voters during the Bush years and encouraged
environmental. leaders to push for the rash of
last-minute Clinton administration National Monument proclamations that
destroyed private and state land values by imposing draconian limits on
human activity. In a more ceremonial move, he and his brother,
Tony, organized the huge rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of
Earth Day in 1990
also worked with Brarack Obama as co-leader of his presidential
transition team, a job that required great powers of coordination and a
Rolodex of key names fifty feet long to fill literally hundreds of
positions in the new Obama administration.
Podesta’s ties to Democratic heavyweights
are long and deep.
worked with high-tech genius
Genachowski, co-chair of the
Innovation, and Government Reform Group
during the Obama transition and worked to
encourage Obama to appoint Genachowski as FCC (Federal Communications
not officially part of the Obama administration, John Podesta arguably
wields more influence at the White House than all but a few of his close
Chicago friends, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (center) and Senior
Advisor David Alexrod.
also friendly with Pete Rouse, Obama’s former Senate chief of staff.
Rouse is seriously important.
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