by Lynette Holloway
When Desiree Rogers quietly stepped down as White House social secretary last week, it came as no surprise to Chicago’s political movers and shakers, such as U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., a longtime African-American leader. “I never expected Desiree Rogers to make a career out of being a social secretary,’’ Davis said.
You see, Rogers, a Chicago socialite and corporate power broker who was previously president of the Illinois utility company Peoples Energy, has long been known as someone who works out front rather than behind the scenes—which is essentially the job of a social secretary). So it was just a matter of time before she said thanks, but no thanks to the job. She will be replaced next month by Julianna Smoot, who served as finance director for Obama’s presidential campaign.
“She did a great job at helping to open up the White House,” said Davis. “In fact, I attended several functions. They were great in terms of interactions and inter-relations with people who do not traditionally go to the White House. She accomplished what she set out to do and she’s ready to move on to the next challenge. I think she went in as a friend, and she leaves as a friend.’’
Rogers resigned on Friday, three months after all the political Sturm und Drang erupted over the Nov. 24 Salahis gatecrasher debacle at the White House state dinner for India’s prime minister. The incident was emblematic of a succession of missteps for Rogers, including appearing on glossy magazine covers and sitting alongside Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, during New York’s Fall Fashion Week last year.
It was a well-timed announcement for President Barack Obama who is being lambasted by conservatives who are critical of his health care plan, and his record recovering jobs and stabilizing the economy. Conservatives are trying to paint him as the new Jimmy Carter, who was known as a well-intentioned but incompetent president.
The resignation comes just weeks after L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first black elected governor, wrote a piece for Politico, calling for the president to rid the White House of his Chicago constituents, saying they were better at running campaigns than governing.
Rogers’ departure is perceived by some political observers as a step in that direction. Still, a former high-ranking Cook County party official said people should look for more personnel changes in the administration over the next six months, a move that is no different than those made by other presidents and elected officials after their first year in office. Typical staff changes are the result of political gaffes, exhaustion and the wrong fit, among other things.
“I thought Rahm would be the first casualty because of [former Illinois Gov. Rod] Blagojevich,’’ Cobb said, referring to unconfirmed news reports that Emanuel may have been captured on FBI wire-taps talking about the president’s former Senate seat. “But we won’t know about that until the trial. The point is you can’t have everyone around you who is new to Washington, and that is what’s going on.’’
But Rep. Davis scoffed at the notion that Rogers’ resignation was the result of a house cleaning.
“I am certain that the Obama administration has a lot of things on its mind other than who is going to be the White House social secretary,’’ Davis said in his trademark booming voice. “There are wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is health care, education and the list goes on.”
When asked if he knew of Rogers’ plans, Davis said, “I’m sure she has so many options that she needs a secretary to help her go through them.’’
Beyond that, Monroe Anderson, a veteran Chicago journalist and political blogger, said Rogers will land on her feet, and she will receive a warm reception if she returns to Chicago, in part because of the way the resignation was orchestrated.
“Because she is Chicago family,’’ Anderson said, “the administration looked for a moment to ease her out, so she could leave gracefully. The news was delivered on a Friday after the health care summit. In other words, it was a slow news day, and the news was the summit. It would have been much bigger story at another time. The timing of the announcement was very favorable for a friend and a fellow Chicagoan.’’
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is already paving the way for Rogers’ return home. On Saturday, he called her “a great friend,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He said that she alone was not responsible for the security breach at the state dinner by Virginia socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi. He chided critics for blaming Rogers for the incident, saying no one can stop anyone at the White House except the Secret Service.
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.