January 6, 2011 / 8:35 PM / 8 years ago

Daley brings broad experience to White House post

* Key roles in NAFTA, China trade status

* Has ability to “find what people’s political price is”

* Good relations in business community

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Newly named White House Chief of Staff William Daley brings to the job broad experiences as a banker, lawyer, campaign strategist and cabinet secretary but his greatest asset may be his cool head as a negotiator.

Daley rescued the North American Free Trade Agreement for then-President Bill Clinton despite a reluctant Congress in 1994, and he was U.S. commerce secretary when he helped usher through most-favored-nation trading status for China.

“His strength is his negotiating skills ... He was able to negotiate that opening” for China, said James Bindenagel, a Daley friend and an administrator at DePaul University in Chicago.

“His unique ability is to find what people’s political price is. That’s the art of a negotiator,” said Chicago political analyst Don Rose.

Daley, chosen on Thursday by President Barack Obama to be his chief of staff, will put those negotiating skills to the test as the White House works with a U.S. House of Representatives that now has a Republican majority. [ID:nN06123566]

“What he (Obama) wanted and what he gets in somebody like Bill is an outside voice with good relations in the business community, a former Cabinet member who understands the importance of a good team and someone with tremendous experience,” said White house spokesman Robert Gibbs.

The 62-year-old Daley’s skills as a businessman — he is currently the top Midwest executive for banking giant JPMorgan Chase and Co (JPM.N) — have been less public. But executives obviously value his extensive political contacts and savvy decision-making, said observers of the politically powerful Daley clan.

Initially, Daley may have made partner at Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown & Platt because of his connections. He was the youngest son and brother of powerful Chicago mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley, and he was close friends with powerful congressman Dan Rostenkowski.

While his brother, the mayor, is prone to angry outbursts and convoluted syntax, William Daley has always been articulate and kept his cool — useful tools for a presidential gatekeeper who must disappoint many suitors, observers said.


Daley has never run for elective office but has explored campaigns for Illinois governor and U.S. senator. Some said there already were too many Daleys in Illinois politics, which includes John, a powerful commissioner of the county that includes Chicago.

Daley has provided advice to a long list of politicians, starting with his brother and continuing with presidential aspirants Clinton, Joe Biden, Al Gore and John Kerry.

Friends quoted in a 2005 profile in Chicago Magazine described Daley as willing to go against conventional wisdom, such as when he correctly advised Kerry to accept Republican George Bush’s debate terms as favorable to the Democrat.

After leaving the Clinton administration in 2000, Daley worked on Al Gore’s unsuccessful presidential campaign and served as president of SBC Communications (T.N).

Daley was disappointed when his rumored appointment as Clinton’s transportation secretary did not come to pass but he did not grouse. Clinton rewarded him with a lucrative seat on the Fannie Mae board and, later, commerce secretary.

“He’s been involved in banking, essentially off and on, when he hasn’t had the public service role,” political analyst Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois at Chicago said.

“He’s very smart and very knowledgeable. He seems to be decisive and to be shrewd as you’d expect someone from Chicago to be. He’s well-spoken,” he said.

“Here politics, as they say, ain’t beanbag. Here you have to be very good, whether you’re a reformer or a machine supporter. You have to really know your numbers, you have to know the mechanics, you have to know the politics. It’s not an idle spectator sport,” Simpson said.

The Daleys grew up in the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport in an Irish-Catholic family where the parish was four blocks square.

“He’s much more moderate and much more modern than, say, his father was. But that’s the milieu he comes out of,” Simpson said.

Daley and wife Loretta had four children, one of whom died from fibrosis of the lungs in 1985 at age 8. The couple separated during the 1990s. (Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Bill Trott)

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