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Many local lawyers dedicated their week to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Anita Ponder, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, attended the convention because she wanted to support Barack Obama. And as a member of her firm’s government and regulatory group, and head of its government contract team, she wanted to connect with some of her clients who also attended the event.
And she also attended the convention as a member of Women Impacting Public Policy’s Democratic Presidential Power Team/Business Women for Obama. The team tries to help frame ideas, recommendations, business solutions, and policy targets for Obama.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “Everyone is energized, and united toward a common goal and purpose. It’s just been very uplifting, and it’s just been a very exhilarating experience.”
Most know Obama as the presidential candidate, but others have known him before he decided to run for U.S. president.
Alan King, another partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, grew up with Obama’s wife Michelle and her brother, Craig Robinson. He’s known them since he was about age 10 or 11.
He met Barack about 10 years ago on the basketball court, and plays regularly with the candidate in his now-famous basketball games.
King is part of the Illinois delegation and spent the week in Denver at the Democratic Convention. He plays a variety of roles in the campaign, but he said his most important role is being a supportive friend to the Obama family.
“They’re both wonderful people, and they’re really about family first and foremost and they are very loyal to each other, obviously, and their children,” King said. “But to their friends, for those of us who have known him before they became ‘Barack and Michelle’ all in caps, they are very much still the same people. And we’re just hopeful that the country will not miss this opportunity to really benefit from his leadership and the vision I think he has for the country.”
King described the convention atmosphere has very supportive, with people of all different ages and ethnicities showing their support. He said having two Chicago lawyers take this path to the White House is important for the city and the legal community.
“It can only reflect positively on the Chicago legal community when one of our own is on the verge of reaching the ultimate height,” he said.
Jesse Ruiz, a Drinker Biddle & Reath partner and chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, is a member of the Democratic National Committee’s rules committee.
Ruiz met Obama in 1992 when he was a University of Chicago law student and Obama was a professor at the school. For the past 10 years they’ve tried to have annual lunches or breakfasts to catch up.
When Obama’s first book came out in 1995 Ruiz remembers joking with him that he better sign his copy because Obama could be famous someday.
He also remembered a conversation they had during one lunch where Obama talked about how he was considering going into politics and thought he might someday run for Chicago mayor. But Ruiz suggested that he better set his sights on another position, because that job was already taken.
When Obama entered the political world, Ruiz would volunteer on his campaigns, and host modest $20-a-head fundraisers for his professor.
Ruiz said it can sometimes be difficult to believe that “somebody you know, somebody you interacted with in the classroom, somebody you shared meals with who had a dream and a passion” is where he is today.
Ruiz has spent his time at the convention supporting Obama, and attending various events and committee meetings. He’s also part of a group of Latino leaders trying to bring in Latino voters and raise funds for Obama.
“This is what can come from lawyers,” Ruiz said about Obama’s run. “Lawyers have a distinct role in society in that they are always civically active. They believe not only in justice in court, but justice in communities and making sure everybody has equal opportunities and access …
“It’s really nice to see one of us is going to hopefully lead the nation forward for the next eight years. I think it’s an honor for the entire legal community that two Illinois lawyers will soon occupy the White House, and represent not only the state and city but also the profession.”