As public speakers go, Obama aide Valerie Jarrett comes pretty cheap.
She lined up a commencement gig next month at Chicago’s Northeastern Illinois University for 30-grand. By all estimates, she’s a multi-millionaire anyway, although the Iranian-born American has spent most of her career in government.
And the Obama adviser has few expenses, no apartment rent, for instance. This winter she joined Barack and Michelle together living in that $5 million mansion they’re renting in Washington.
As deputy mayor of Chicago’s Democrat machine, Jarrett introduced a young Windy City newcomer named Obama around that city’s insular black community. She also hired a woman named Michelle Robinson. And the rest is first family history. An historical plaque now marks the South Side spot where Michelle and Barack first kissed.
Jarrett’s $30,000 speaking fee is way beneath the quarter-million and half-million talking tolls the Clintons charged. And it’s not even close to the $100,000, the private jet and the electric car that has-been politician Al Gore demanded to speak about the environment to university crowds.
The trouble is Northeastern Illinois University shouldn’t have been spending that kind of money for anything unrelated to academics, certainly not to a Tier Three speaker. The public university has been forcing faculty to take unpaid days off. And the school recently canceled classes and closed the campus for three days to its 10,000 students to save money, allegedly due to state budget cuts and disputes.
State Rep. Mark Batinick introduced a measure in the Illinois House last year that would prohibit state schools from paying fees to speakers. Predictably, the bill died. Batinick is a Republican.
“Right now,” state Sen. Daniel Biss said at a recent school rally, “every penny needs to go into the classroom.” University trustees, who are looking for a new school president, also raised questions about the expenditure.
To snuff the fee controversy, Northeastern Illinois said it found an anonymous donor, who would foot Jarrett’s bill. A school spokesman explained, “Valerie Jarrett is a role model for many of our graduating students as well as prospective students.”
A spokeswoman later said that Jarrett, a veteran of Illinois and Chicago governments, had been totally unaware of the school’s financial plight. And that she had decided to give her May 8 remarks for free. Jarrett will, however, get an honorary degree.