By Colin Barr
January 6, 2011

The money crowd just can’t stop gushing about William Daley – but not, they stress, because he’s a banker.

Daley is best known as son of the late Chicago mayor Richard Daley, brother of the current Chicago mayor of the same name and as a high-ranking Clinton administration trade official in the late 1990s.  He is now a top associate of the nation’s most powerful finance executive, JPMorgan Chase (jpm) chief Jamie Dimon.

But before that he was a lawyer and businessman, and fans say it is those skills — together with his political chops – that mark him for success in what may be his next role, chief of staff to President Obama.

“It’s a good thing the administration is trying to get some operators running the government,” said Elliot Weissbluth, who runs the Chicago brokerage HighTower Advisors. “There is just a huge difference between politicians and operators when it comes to getting things done.”

Weissbluth describes himself as a supporter of both Obama and his previous chief of staff, Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel. But he says the administration’s poor rapport with business types now impedes progress on a host of issues. He believes Daley has shown throughout his career he is capable of breaking that logjam.

“He’s not an extremist or a provocateur,” says Weissbluth. “If there’s a chance to bring people together, he’s the right guy.”

He isn’t the only one who sees it that way.

Daley “has threaded the most complicated needles in order to drive growth and create jobs, which is just what the country needs right now,” said Peter Rose of Blackstone (bx), the investment firm whose leaders haven’t always been among Obama’s strongest supporters.

Daley, 62, practiced with the family law firm Daley & George before he spending four years in the early 1990s in top posts at Amalgamated Bank of Chicago. He then worked at the global law firm Mayer Brown, at one point counseling Clinton on trade issues, before taking over as Commerce secretary in 1997.

Daley ran Al Gore’s losing presidential campaign in 2000, then moved to SBC Communications, the San Antonio telco now known as AT&T (t). In 2004 he joined JPMorgan in Chicago, where he remains a member of the No. 2 U.S. bank’s executive committee.

Daley’s proximity to Dimon raises hackles with some lefties who say the White House has already sold out to Wall Street too many times. But fans say to see Daley as a banker first is to misread him.

They point instead to Daley’s stint at Commerce and his role as an adviser to Clinton on the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Defusing trade tensions and rebuilding the domestic manufacturing base naturally rank quite high on Obama’s list of economic priorities.

“What cheers people up isn’t his experience at JPMorgan, as fine as that is,” said Rose. “It’s his success in getting things done in a way that draws the admiration of leaders in both parties.”

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