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Obama Taps Columbia Heights Leader for White House Post

Three decades after the Rev. Jim Wallis and a group of urban missionaries moved into Columbia Heights to serve the poor, Wallis found himself standing in the Oval Office. President Barack Obama, yesterday, named him as a member of the President's Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

D.C. Wire caught up with Wallis last night, and the president of the Christian activist group Sojourners, said he is of course excited about the appointment.

"Here is a community organizer who has become president of the United States, and he still remembers that the efforts of people in the local community are crucial if we are going to get through this crisis," Wallis told the Wire.

Wallis, who recalled the days when Columbia Heights was known more for gunfire and crime scenes than luxury apartments, has 44's ear at a time when many political---and religious---figures in this town are clamoring for his attention.

"I have known President Obama since he was a lowly state senator in Illinois," Wallis said jokingly. "President Obama wants to listen to faith-based and community leaders. He wants to listen to people who are close to the ground to know what the real issues are."

Hamil R. Harris

The fact that Wallis is comfortable enough to offer this level of insight will probably spark a new wave of phone calls from those who are seeking to be part of Obama's inner circle, especially at a time when a number of churches are still hoping that the First Family will join their congregation.

A White House spokesman said yesterday that while the Obamas have visited "several churches" they want to keep looking before they settle on one.

But some people in this town are trying to do the math. Prior to the inauguration the Obamas worshiped at 19th Street Baptist Church. On Inauguration Day he went to saint John's and then the day after, he attended a national service at the National Cathedral.

The Rev. Derek Harkins and his members are still hoping that the Obamas will make their congregation their permanent home, but Harkins said that decision is a "personal decision" for the Obamas.

The president's faith-based panel also includes another member of the D.C. clergy: Rabbi David Saperstein, also of the District.

Hamil R. Harris

By Hamil Harris  |  February 6, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  City Life , Obama  
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