November 3, 2006

Former Clinton adviser Cerda talks politics

Jose Cerda III, a former policy adviser to President Clinton and policy chief for Mayor Daley, spoke about his experiences in both national and local politics in an event hosted by the UCDems Thursday in the Reynolds Club South Lounge.

Cerda sat poised on the arm of his chair with his arms folded across his chest as he described the peculiar series of events that determined his political career.

He grew up in Chicago in a predominantly Republican family, and he continued to identify himself as a Republican until his interest in civil rights and his first-hand encounters with racism in college prompted him to reconsider his political loyalties and affiliation.

While at Harvard University, he started studying international relations—which he thought of as “the sexy part of government,” he said. Cerda developed an interest in domestic policy, and one of his professors convinced him to pursue a political career in Washington.

After a few years in Washington, Cerda took a chance on the underdog Clinton campaign and eventually found himself in the White House as a policy adviser to the President.

“I loved working for Clinton,” he said, although he admitted that the early years of Clinton’s administration were often tense.

Three things in particular continue to separate those years from the rest of his experiences in government, he said: Clinton’s “positive politics,” the belief that “ideas are the main currency of politics,” and a genuine emphasis on problem solving.

Cerda was politically involved in Chicago during the Clinton administration, but he became much more so after Clinton left office. He said that Clinton and Daley are different, but they have one major similarity—both of them are “consummate doers.”

Cerda called Daley a “a man who’s gotten the big things right.” But he also criticized Chicago politics, asking, “Why is our local government filled with crooks and clowns?” He challenged the structure and leadership of Chicago government. Despite the fact that Cerda preferred his work in national government, he is now committed to Chicago and Chicago politics. “Chicago has got a split personality,” he said, explaining that despite the city’s improvements, it is still “rife with corruption.”

Cerda recently resigned his position as Mayor Daley’s policy chief, and he is currently running for city clerk.