STREETERVILLE — In town Wednesday night for a pair of fundraisers, President Barack Obama gave a shout out to two locals he considers winners: the Chicago Blackhawks and BettyLu Saltzman.
While the Blackhawks are well known, Saltzman is less so, though the daughter of a mall developer has worked behind the scenes for Democrats for years.
Appearing at the Streeterville home of Saltzman and her husband Paul, a retired cardiologist, Obama told the woman he calls a key mentor: "I can honestly say I probably would not be president of the United States were it not for BettyLu Saltzman."
Saltzman responded that when they first met when Obama first came to town in the early 1990s, "I was very impressed with you. So impressed, I told many friends that someday you would be president of the United States. Your service has been extraordinary."
BettyLu Saltzman — whose father Philip Klutznik was involved in the development of the Oak Brook, Old Orchard and Water Tower shopping centers, was a former Carter administration Cabinet member and president of the Chicago Bulls — was a key conduit to local Democrats for Obama.
"I don't know if BettyLu actually told me that she thought I could be president. But what I do know is this — that when I had just gotten out of law school and was still finding my way, and I had come back here, ... I was assigned to work to register voters with Project Vote. BettyLu even then was at the forefront of a nonpartisan effort to get people registered and voting, back in 1992," Obama said.
She "treated me like a son," Obama said, and introduced him to people in the city who could help him reach his political aspirations.
"She invested high hopes and expectations in me. And through all the ups and downs of my political career, she has been a constant, and she's always been there and has always been supportive. And when times have been tough she was right there and stepping up all over again," Obama said.
A 2011 profile of Saltzman in the Chicago Jewish News called her "a mover and shaker with a modest demeanor who seldom makes headlines but whose actions have consequences far beyond Chicago."
Born in Nebraska, Saltzman moved to Chicago when she was in 7th grade. After college, she worked on the campaigns of various liberal candidates, including former Ald. Bill Singer, Adlai Stevenson III, the late Sen. Paul Simon and former President Bill Clinton, according to the Jewish News. She remains close to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
Obama on Wednesday proved himself to be adept at raising money — and a pretty good hockey prognosticator, too.
Appearing at a fundraiser for the Democratic party at the Chicago Hilton — where tickets were $5,000 a couple — Obama acknowledged the Blackhawks playoff match against the Detroit Red Wings was just getting underway.
"My remarks are going to be relatively brief because game seven of the Blackhawks game is going on right now," he told the crowd of about 150. "And I expect the Blackhawks to win."
He returned to the hockey theme later at the Saltzman home, where about 60 people ponied up $32,400 per couple.
"If anybody is monitoring the score please let us know," the president said. Noting that Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan was in attendance Obama said, "Secret Service, can you have this man removed?"
The Blackhawks won 2-1 in overtime, sending the Red Wings home for the season. And while White House officials wouldn’t say how much money Obama raised for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, it was worth the trip home.
Obama used both appearances to criticize Republicans as more interested in scoring political points than solving the nation's problems. But he acknowledged that it will be difficult for Democrats to retake the House in 2014.
"Frankly, the way gerrymandering now works, and the geographical distribution of the population, makes winning back the House a challenge. But, know what? Me winning the presidency was a challenge," Obama said.
Obama spent the night at his Kenwood home before leaving Thursday morning for Washington.