What Valerie Wants

Barack Obama doesn't need Valerie Jarrett in the Senate. But if that's what she has her eye on, chances are his old seat is all hers.

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Getty Images for Meet the Press

The news that Barack Obama's confidant and transition team co-chair, Valerie Jarrett, may be the president-elect's choice to replace him in the Senate tells you two things for certain:

1) How attractive a seat in the U. S. Senate is for anyone interested in political office.

2) How indebted Obama is to Jarrett for his success.

Obama has made a point of articulating his understanding that the choice of who replaces him is not his; it belongs to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich—"This is the governor's decision. It is not my decision."—but who can doubt that the man elected to the seat (and, oh yeah, the most popular politician on the planet) would not have a say in who succeeds him?

The mere discussion of Jarrett as a possible successor has fueled talk that Mr. Change has quickly succumbed to Washington cronyism and old-style Chicago politics. That is grossly unfair, mostly to Jarrett, who is extraordinarily well-qualified for Obama's Senate seat and many other jobs. But Washington doesn't do fair. So let's get to the debate.

Just to get the qualifications issue out of the way: Jarrett graduated from Stanford and University of Michigan Law School. She was deputy corporation counsel for finance and development in the city administration of Harold Washington and deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley. For three years, she headed the city's Department of Planning and Development and later was chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority.

She was chairman of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange and was a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. These days, when she's not palling around with the soon-to-be most powerful person in the free world, she also heads Chicago's 2016 Olympic Committee.

Jarrett could have just about any job she wants in Obama's Washington, and if she wants to be a senator, it's probably what she'll get. Obama was the only African American in the Senate and appointing Jarrett would address that concern for the governor. But appointing Jarrett would also be a snub of sorts to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who also has his eye on the seat.

It is probably in Obama's best political interest to keep Jarrett in the White House. She has been described as the other half of his brain. She'll be both an authority figure and completely loyal to him and his agenda, exactly the kind of surrogate he'll want wandering the halls of the West Wing.

But a seat in the U.S. Senate is a prize, a base of power in itself, and that is why the jockeying for it has been so intense.