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Latino leaders meet with a top adviser to the president

Stanley O. Williford | 9/19/2012, 5 p.m.

Senior Democratic Strategist Valerie Jarrett swooped into town on a hot summer's Friday last week to meet with prominent Latino leaders and volunteers behind the Obama-Biden campaign at the Organizing for America Southeast Los Angeles office, as well as volunteers at offices on Crenshaw Boulevard and in Santa Monica.

One report estimated that Obama may garner as much as 68 to70 percent of the Latino vote, with Mitt Romney taking about 25 percent.

Among Jarrett's several titles are senior adviser to the president and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. As a friend of long-standing to the Obamas, she is also considered by some to be perhaps the most influential adviser to the president.

Jarrett holds a bachelor's degree from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

Prior to joining the Obama administration, she was the CEO of the Habitat Co., chairman of the Chicago Transit Board, commissioner of planning and development for the city of Chicago, and deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley and has practiced law with two private law firms.

Jarrett also served as a director of corporate and not-for-profit boards, including chairman of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and chairman of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board of Trustees.

Not every leader she was supposed to see was present, but she did field questions from labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes and El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero at the campaign office on 1167 E. Florence Ave. Assembly Speaker John Perez and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta were apparently unable to attend.

Durazo spoke passionately of "dreamer" youth, who though given a two-year reprieve by the president, still live under the shadow of deportation, along with their parents.

Jarrett said she was happy Durazo brought up the issue. "I know all of us have had an opportunity to meet the Dream Act students," she said. "They're just what America is all about.

They work hard. They want to serve our country. Many of them want to join the military and defend our country, putting their lives in harm's way. They want to teach in our schools. They want to start businesses. They want to be wonderful citizens and give back to the country that they love. And so for so many of them, they've known no other country."

Jarrett said the president embraces and fully stands with them and wants to provide a permanent path to citizenship for them and their families. She said what was frustrating to see was the Republicans' unwillingness to engage on the issue of immigration reform.

Los Angeles City Councilman Ed P. Reyes, who is spearheading a plan to revitalize the L.A. River in hopes of generating 19,000 jobs, wanted to know how to break down the "silos" of the federal government in order to get help with the project.

"Absolutely," said Jarrett. She said the president has been concerned about such situations, and has asked all of his cabinet to come together and figure out how they can work collaboratively and fast-track many of these large projects that "traditionally would go from one agency to another agency to another agency for review." Rather, his desire is to have all of them do the review together to streamline the project.

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero reminded Jarrett that September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and that in his city 50 percent of the children were obese. In studies of 100 cities in the state. He said, El Monte ranked No. 9 in childhood obesity. He said it was part and parcel with healthcare reform and asked what could be done in the nation and in the communities to combat the problem.

Jarrett spoke of the first lady's effort along those lines reaching out to mayors and local elected officials across the country because so much of what needs to be done is at the local level. "This is not something that can be mandated from the federal level," she said. "We have to get everybody involved." She related a personal experience of the first lady when her daughters were very young. A nutritionist asked if she was aware of the nutritional value of what her children were eating. She said the first lady did not know. She was admonished to be aware of the children's calorie intake, make sure that they are exercising and make the exercise fun so it's a family activity.