Steve Rattner had never focused on the auto industry before. So yes, he was an odd choice to be a special adviser to the Treasury Department on its dealings with Detroit car manufacturers. And even though he was known mostly for his work as a journalist and as an investor in various media companies, Rattner got right to work, reportedly helping to engineer the ouster of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner just weeks after joining the Administration.
But now, the private equity firm Rattner co-founded is the focus of pay-to-play accusations made by the New York State Attorney General and Securities and Exchange Commission. While Rattner has not been charged with anything, he was an executive at the firm during the time the alleged misdeeds took place and reportedly may have met with those accused of criminal activity. Details remain scant, but the case involves payments to people who helped make business connections between Rattner's firm and the New York State pension fund. The Obama Administration claims it was aware of the pending investigation when it appointed Rattner. (See 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis)
Born on Long Island, Rattner graduated from Brown University in 1974 and worked as an assistant to James Reston, the legendary New York Times columnist. Soon, Rattner was himself a full-fledged Times reporter on the energy beat. He also became close friends with Arthur Sulzberger, whose family controlled the New York Times and who worked as a reporter in the papers' Washington bureau at the same time as Rattner.
Considered one of the most successful young reporters in the business, Rattner nonetheless left the profession in 1982 to become an investment banker. He worked at Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and eventually Lazard Freres, where he served as deputy chairman.
In 2000, Rattner and four other Lazard executives left the company to form Quadrangle, an investment firm which focused on media and telecommunications.
Rattner and wife Maureen White have been very involved in the Democratic Party. White was formerly national finance chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and the couple have raised money for Al Gore, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Rattner and his wife are known for throwing lavish parties in their Manhattan apartment. Close friends of the Clintons, Rattner and White reportedly hosted the President and First Lady at a Martha's Vineyard party in the summer of 1998, while the Administration and country were still reeling from the Monica Lewinsky affair.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Rattner was the Administration official who told GM CEO Rick Wagoner that he would have to step down, then informing Wagoner's replacement, Frederick "Fritz" Henderson, that GM's top job was now his. (See the 50 Worst Cars of All Time)
"If one was ever to have an interest in serving your country in the area of economic policy, this was the moment."
on why he wanted to join the Obama Administration under the current economic conditions, (New York Times, April 5, 2009)
"That's a ticket to irrelevance ... We should stick with Clinton as we try to remake the party."
on speculation that centrist Democrats might have supported a third-party candidate against Bill Clinton when the President was running for re-election, (TIME, July 10, 1995)
"Of all media moguls, Rupert has been the boldest. If Fox or Sky had crashed and burned, he would have burned too. He has an enormously strong constitution."
while head of the media department at Lazard, commenting on Rupert Murdoch's business acumen, (TIME, Nov. 19, 1990)
"He's a superstar."
Orin Kramer, an Obama fundraiser and hedge fund manager, on Rattner, New York Times, April 5, 2009
"He's not accused of doing any wrongdoing and he's not likely to face any criminal or civil charges as it relates to this. And the pending investigation was something that he brought up to us."
Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, expressing the Obama Administration's confidence in Rattner, even after the investigation related to his firm came to light, (Reuters, April 17, 2009)
[Rattner] has the advantage of being an active and willing social climber but not being sleazy. He is very smooth."
Michael Wolff, in an excerpt from his book Autumn of the Moguls, ( New York, Nov. 3, 2003)
"He decided that rather than covering the players, he wanted to be a player."
Kathy Slobogin, formerly a New York Times colleague of Rattner's, on why he left the news business to be an investment banker, (Newsweek, Aug. 11, 2008)
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