- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

Not surprisingly, the most disciplined presidential candidate in modern times, President-elect Barack Obama, chose one of the Democratic Party’s most disciplined personalities — John Podesta, a Clinton White House chief of staff — to head up his early transition team.

A thin, stern-looking man in photographs, Mr. Podesta was given the moniker Skippy the Evil Twin by the staff when he was in a bad mood, according to his brother, Tony Podesta, chairman of the Podesta Group, an influential lobbying and public-affairs firm. Twenty years ago, the two brothers started what has become one of Washington’s most successful firms of its kind, originally called Podesta Associates.

John Podesta, who will turn 60 on Jan. 8, went on in July 2003 to become president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, a liberal public-policy think tank.

“He is 100 percent authentic; there isn’t an ounce of guile in his body. A straight shooter,” says Lanny Davis, a former Clinton White House counsel and partner in the Washington office of the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. “Sometimes that means he can be tough, and he was often tough with me, but you always know where you stand with him.”

Hard-boiled though he can be, his political dexterity is such that he maintained the confidence of both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama in a cutthroat campaign year when both were running for the highest office in the land.

He is a marathon runner, a mean cook and a discerning collector of contemporary art. The brothers maintain a friendly rivalry when it comes to their art collections. Both their houses in Northwest Washington are full of personally chosen works.

The brothers have never had a serious fight, Tony Podesta says. Both are Chicago-born of a Greek-American mother and an Italian-American father from a blue-collar background, but they had moved on to Washington before Mr. Obama came to work in the Windy City.

The brothers — both are lawyers who married lawyers — sponsored a fundraiser for Mr. Obama when he was running for the Senate from Illinois.

John Podesta has taught a spring course with Judge Richard Leon on congressional investigations for the past 12 years at Georgetown University Law Center, where Mr. Podesta graduated in 1976.

“He is smart and has good judgment,” says Judge Leon, a federal district judge for the District of Columbia. “In a city with a lot of hidden agendas and not a lot of humility, he is a very rare combination of personal qualities — genuinely humble and an honest broker.”

Mr. Obama “said he bonded with John because they both are skinny — a little bit of a joke with truth in it,” Tony Podesta recalls. The brothers and their families are close and spent election night together at dinner in the D.C. restaurant Tosca, celebrating John and Mary Podesta’s 30th wedding anniversary. They haven’t yet planned how to celebrate John’s 60th birthday, Tony Podesta says.

John Podesta is not expected to have a permanent role in the new administration he’s helping put into place, but he will, his brother suggests, return to his job at the Center for American Progress. “I think John is an expert on policy and politics, and Obama couldn’t find anybody with the [same] breadth and depth of experience,” Tony Podesta attests.

John Podesta’s career has included stints as a trial lawyer in the Justice Department, counselor to then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and several other posts on Capitol Hill. He served in the White House from 1993 to 2001, becoming chief of staff in 1998.

On Wednesday, the Obama-Biden office named a triumvirate for managing the transition going forward. The planning process is recognized formally as the Obama-Biden Transition Project, a 501(c)4 organization to be overseen by three co-chairmen: Mr. Podesta; Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago lawyer, businesswoman and civic leader who is a senior adviser to Mr. Obama; and Pete Rouse, the president-elect’s chief of staff in the U.S. Senate.

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