Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Yvonne Davila, Close Friend of Michelle Obama, Could Be in Trouble

The First Lady’s friend—and top aide to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown—reportedly failed her six-figure, taxpayer-funded salary in her bankruptcy case. A look at Davila and her friendship with Michelle Obama…

An investigation by the Better Government Association and Fox 32 News has turned up evidence that could mean trouble for a close friend of First Lady Michelle Obama. 

According to the report, Yvonne Davila, a press advisor to Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, failed to disclose in her bankruptcy case her annual salary (since May) of $104,000. Dane Placko, Patrick McCraney, and Bob Herguth report that Davila did not disclose the taxpayer-funded amount when she applied in June for the coveted federal designation of Chapter 7 “discharge”—coveted because it allows erasure of some or all debt owed to creditors.

Her lawyer has taken the blame—Davila, according to the BGA/Fox report, said that he had filed out the documents before she landed the County job and that he has since tried to correct the documents. Still, audio tapes of an August creditors’ meeting—at which her county job is not in the record—reportedly show Davila answering—under oath—“yes” to such questions as, Is “all the information contained in those [bankruptcy] documents… true and correct?” Also: Did she review “all the information…and the statement of financial affairs?” She was granted the Chapter 7 status in October. According to the BGA/Fox News report, “….It’s considered a crime—perjury, punishable by a fine and/or jail time—to purposely convey false information in such court filings.”

Davila, whom the Sun-Times story calls a “relatively well-known publicist” in Chicago, also is a close friend of Michella Obama. On the first Saturday after Barack Obama won his first term, Michelle, as I wrote in a profile at the time, kept to her custom of spending Saturday with her daughters, her girlfriends (Yvonne Davila and Sandy Matthews), and their daughters. The three “best friends” typically took their kids to ballet and soccer, out to lunch, and to the movies.

Michelle first met Davila at Rich Daley’s City Hall in 1991—the job that launched the friendship between the Obamas and their close confidant and White House advisor, Valerie Jarrett. Later, Davila, whom I interviewed in November 2008 for the profile, became co-founder and CEO of a Chicago publicity, public affairs, and marketing firm, D & T Communications, Inc. D & T still has an active website listing such clients as the Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Public Schools, Illinois Department of Transportation, and WBEZ, but an attempt to reach Davila through D & T was unsuccessful because the firm’s telephone number is “no longer in service.”)

In the interest of rounding out the character of a woman who came across to me as warm and forthcoming, here are some tidbits that stood out from our hourlong conversation in 2008:

+ At City Hall, Michelle worked on policy; Davila, senior to Michelle, worked as a speechwriter and assistant press secretary. They worked together on such issues such as infant mortality, after-school programs, mobile immunization.

+ When Michelle left City Hall in 1993 to head Public Allies—a program that encouraged young people to participle in public service—Davila stayed close, serving on the Public Allies board, fundraising, and participating in service activities with Michelle, such as washing down walls in public housing.

+ A divorced mother of three, Davila became a neighbor of the Obamas, and she and Michelle were pregnant at the same time—and the daughters who came from those pregnancies became best friends. The Obama daughters often spent the night at “Auntie Yvonne’s” house, especially when their parents were campaigning. “The kids are with me the most outside of her mom,” Davila told me, explaining that Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson, had the girls during the week, and Davila on weekends. Michelle was “Auntie Miche” to Davila’s daughters. Davila said that she had a tradition with Malia and Sasha, on their birthdays, of  “going to dinner… and then we do a shopping spree and then we come to my house and then we just sort of have a sleepover.”

+ Known among Michelle’s friends as “the nurturer,” Davila loved to make meals. “I am a huge cook, so I will cook up a storm and make everything by scratch…. I make homemade French Toast…. Everybody knows when they come to my house they’re going to eat well.” 

+ Davila is also so close to Michelle’s mother Marian Robinson that, she told me, she calls her “Mom.”

+ Davila recalled first meeting Barack, before he and Michelle were married, at a Bulls party at a mutual friend’s house. “He was a great guy from the beginning, and you sort of knew they were in love…. I knew he was different, and I can’t explain why…. He was extremely smart.”

+ Barack taught Davila’s son, her firstborn (and considerably older than her daughters), how to tie a necktie.

+ During the campaign, Davila, who is Puerto Rican, and who traveled frequently on campaign trips with Michelle, recalled accompanying Michelle to Puerto Rico. “When we got off the plane, there were hundreds of people at the airport… and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, this is real.’ For the first time I think it sort of hit me that my girlfriend now is a celebrity…. I got to see how hard she works. I got to see how much people love her…. I’m from New York City, so I went with her to New York several tines.”

+ On campaign plane rides, the two women would just talk “like girlfriends” about “regular stuff” and what was “going on our lives.” Davila also told me that Michelle, from the time she first met her at City Hall, always had a passion for clothes and shopping. “She always knew how to put it together… We’d go shopping in the Loop, we’d go to Bloomingdale’s, to Nordstrom, Ann Taylor.”

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2 years ago
Posted by pol&pers

Why in the world does the Clerk need a publicist paid over $100,000? Our elected officials too often prize propagandists who are there to work on behalf of the pol, not the voters. And why do so many of our public sector staff seem to go bankrupt despite overcompensation for the jobs they do? But this isn't a personal failing on Michelle Obama's part unless she played a role in getting her placed.

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