Springfield State Journal-Register

March 21, 2005

Obama's staff combines experience, enthusiasm

BY Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Freshman Sen. Barack Obama is combining experienced Capitol Hill hands with those with Illinois ties to build a staff of 45 people here and in Illinois to help him handle his duties to his constituents.

Obama's transition from candidate to senator has been made smoother with the help of chief of staff Pete Rouse, who spent 20 years heading up the office of former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who was defeated last November.

"Pete Rouse knows so many talented people and knows what's needed in a Senate office to be effective," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who hired Rouse to run his House office in 1985. "He may be one of the hardest-working staffers on the Hill."

Daschle once described Rouse as "tough on the outside and soft on the inside," while Rouse's former co-workers have described him as a consensus-builder. Rouse, originally from Connecticut, was hired in early December at an annual salary of $153,554.

Under Rouse's direction, the Washington staff is nearly complete with 29 employees and the Illinois staff totals 16. More than half of all Obama's staff members are from Illinois.

Obama and his growing Washington staff moved out of his cramped temporary basement quarters late last month and into permanent space in the granite-lined halls of the Senate Hart Office Building. Obama's annual Senate budget for offices and staff salaries is about $2.8 million and is based on the state's population, his aides said.

Obama's first official Senate hire was Robert Gibbs, who headed press operations for the Senate campaign and now serves as his Senate communications director. Gibbs, 33, whose annual salary is $90,000, fielded hundreds of media requests from around the world after Obama was elected. A native of Alabama, Gibbs previously worked for Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and three House members.

Obama's Illinois press secretary is Julian Green, 34, a Chicago native, who is paid $86,000 a year. Green was assistant press secretary for Mayor Richard Daley and worked on Obama's campaign.

The Illinois state director is Chicago native Kenneth F. Williams-Bennett, 41, who previously worked for the city of Chicago. He receives $105,000 a year.

Heading Obama's Chicago office is Pam Bozeman-Evan, who previously worked as associate dean and director at the University of Chicago's University Community Service Center. She is paid $90,000 a year.

Anita Decker is in charge of the senator's Springfield office. A native of Kenilworth, Ill., Decker was previously downstate field director for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. She receives a salary of $65,000,

Obama's policy director is Karen Kornbluh of New York City. She previously worked for the centrist think tank, New America Foundation, as director of its work family program. She also was deputy chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin in the Clinton administration. Kornbluh works part-time, but the full-time salary for the position would be $105,000.

Legislative Director Chris Lu was previously deputy chief counsel to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. Lu receives $105,000 a year.

Chief Counsel Michael Strautmanis, an Illinois native, was last employed by the American Trial Lawyers Association and was a legislative director for then-Rep. Blagojevich. He receives $95,000 a year.

Other staff members are paid much less than the top staffers. The others include a mail manager and four legislative correspondents to handle the more than 800 e-mails, faxes and letters that Obama receives each day.


Bernard Schoenburg, political columnist for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, contributed to this report.