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Carol Felsenthal

Carol Felsenthal

Posted: June 17, 2009 07:59 PM

Obama Girls' Godmother Among Members Of Prestigious White House Commission


As Lynn Sweet reports in her Sun-Times blog, the list of the 28 members of the President's Commission on White House Fellows is out.

Among the Chicago names are Facing History guru Judy Wise, the founder of the group's Chicago office, formerly its executive director, an early supporter of Barack Obama, and a member of his National Finance Committee (and a close friend of mine) and Bryan Traubert, an ophthalmologist, member of many nonprofit boards, and husband of Obama campaign finance chairman Penny Pritzker.

Another Chicago name on the list, Eleanor Kaye Wilson, caught my eye. When I was writing a profile of Michelle for Chicago magazine, I tried but failed to land an interview with Ms. Wilson, known affectionately by the Obamas as "Mama Kaye."

Ms. Kaye's bio on the White House press release describes her as an educator whose work has included stints at DePaul University's School for New Learning and at the Chicago City Colleges system, "where she developed ... a welfare-to-work education and training program for General Assistance participants."

Ms. Wilson, who lives in Olympia Fields, is the Obama girls' godmother as well as a friend and contemporary of Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson. Yvonne Davila, a friend of Michelle's since their days working in City Hall, told me that when Michelle and Barack were on the campaign trail, the Obama girls would often stay with with Mama Kaye, whom she describes as "the Martha Stewart of our group. ... She does foods that are amazing. She also does arts and crafts and it's such a great [treat] for our kids to go over there."

I posted earlier about Cindy Moelis, another Chicago name--one of Michelle's closest Chicago girlfriends since their days together working for Mayor Richard M. Daley--whom Obama previously named as director of the Fellows program. She and her husband, Bob, named counsel to the transportation department, are in the midst of moving their family from Chicago to Washington.

The commission is loaded with big names: former Senator Tom Daschle, slated to be HHS secretary and health czar but forced to drop out over a controversy involving unpaid taxes, Maya Soetoro-Ng, the President's half sister, Tom Brokaw, Vartan Gregorian, a former president of Brown University, Ruth J. Simmons, the current president of Brown University, and Laurence Tribe, an influential professor at Harvard Law School.