Michelle Obama likely to chart own course as first lady

November 5, 2008 3:25:28 PM PST
President-elect Barack Obama's praised his wife Michelle during his speech in Grant Park."I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady, Michelle Obama," he said.

Chicagoans know Michelle Obama is smart and successful, but what issues will she take on as first lady? For Hillary Clinton, it was healthcare. For Laura Bush, it was education.

While Barack Obama called Michelle Obama his best friend, she is certainly her own woman. The 44-year-old Princeton and Harvard Law School graduate and mother of two says she doesn't want to be so tied to all that Barack is that she doesn't have anything for herself.

So, what kind of first lady will she be? To find out, ABC7 Chicago spoke with the people who last worked with her in Chicago.

Michelle Obama's office at the University of Chicago Medical Center sits almost frozen in time -- tidy and untouched, since she went on leave from her job as vice president for community and external affairs, where she earned more than her husband.

"I don't know if it's all settled in yet. I think at the medical center, we have extra beats in our steps. Everyone here is just so proud of her," said Susan Sher, the woman who hired Michelle Obama in 2002.

Sher says priority number one for America's first African-American first lady will be serving as 'mother-in-chief,' as Michelle Obama calls it, to her two daughters, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha.

The two girls attend the University of Chicago Lab School, currently.

Sher says that Michelle Obama has already been trying to find the right private school for the girls to attend in Washington come January and that the mother is most concerned with making her girls' lives as normal as possible.

"That is the key issue that Michelle will be dealing with. I know she's already talked to Hillary Clinton because she has tremendous respect for the way she sheltered Chelsea, who is this incredibly smart, young woman," Sher said.

Some people have compared Michelle Obama's sleek but not overdone style to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Others say, as a one-time corporate lawyer, Michelle Obama shares much in common with Hillary Clinton, who, as first lady, had her own staff in the West Wing.

However, a man who calls Michelle Obama his mentor says she will chart her own path.

"As a first lady, she's warm, engaging, incredibly charismatic and fundamentally caring about people, and I think she's going to bring that to the White House," said Leif Elsmo, who was hired by Michelle Obama 14 years ago.

While Michelle Obama is often praised for her personal style, her tastes are anything but cutting edge. Her favorite music is Stevie Wonder, and her favorite food is macaroni and cheese. As a favorite television show, she enjoys repeats of the Dick Van Dyke Show.

Barack Obama also says his wife Michelle is great at doing the hula hoop. So, a lot of the favorites from the 1950s and 1960s could be coming back in style with Michelle Obama in the White House.


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