WASHINGTON — President Obama today tapped his budget chief, Jacob J. Lew, to be his new top aide, turning to the respected government numbers cruncher and former adviser to late House Speaker Tip O’Neill to steer his presidency as he seeks a second term.
Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, will now serve as White House chief of staff, replacing William Daley, who resigned the position after only a year.
A graduate of Harvard University and Georgetown University Law School, Lew, 56, has served in a series of high-level positions over a three-decade career and is recognized as one of Washington’s most astute managers. When Obama named him as budget director in July 2010, it was the second time he held the position, serving as budget chief in the Clinton administration from 1998 to 2001.
“If there was a Hall of Fame for budget directors,” Obama said in announcing the personnel change at the White House this afternoon, “then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place for his service in that role under President Clinton, when he helped balance the federal budget after years of deficits.”
Indeed, Lew is a rare breed in Washington whose skills and approach are touted on both sides of the partisan divide — despite the fact that the Queens native volunteered as a teenager for the presidential campaign of liberal darling and anti-Vietnam War icon Senator Eugene McCarthy.
Amid the deep rancor of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over the federal budget last summer, he was still able to garner admirers in the GOP. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, told Politico in July that, “No one was more prepared or more in tune with the numbers than Jack Lew,” adding that “he was always very polite and respectful in his tone and someone who I can tell is very committed to his principles.”
Before joining Obama’s staff, Lew was under secretary of state for management and resources. In between government posts he served stints as the chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments Unit and as operations chief for New York University, where he also taught public policy at the Wagner School of Public Service.
He had also served as deputy director of the Office of Program Analysis in Boston’s budget office and worked with Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988.
But it is some of his former colleagues who worked alongside him when he was a domestic policy adviser from 1979 to 1987 for the longtime Massachusetts lawmaker O’Neill who were proudest of his latest promotion, which arguably makes him the most influential adviser in the Oval Office.
“The entire Tip O’Neill clan is cheering for one of our own,” said Pamela P. Jackson, a fellow staff assistant for O’Neill in the 1980s. “Tip would be proud but not surprised. He taught us the honor of public service and I think that is what Jack exemplifies. Those qualities were evident then and they haven’t changed.”
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.