On the wall in his office at Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, campaign chairman John Podesta has an oil painting on loan from his lobbyist brother, who is an avid art collector. The image shows two men hunched over a dining room table, bearing knives and forks. On the table lays a man in a suit, who looks vaguely like Podesta. “It’s better to be the guy with the fork,” Podesta quips to his colleagues, if they ask about the image, “than the guy on the table.”No one can argue that Podesta has been anyone’s meal this primary season, and to the extent he has succeeded in his role, the same can be said of his boss, Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, with a win in Pennsylvania and four other states, she emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Even ahead of Tuesday’s voting, rival Bernie Sanders needed to win two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch up with Clinton’s lead. After Clinton’s Acela Corridor sweep, Sanders path to the nomination is all but closed.
At the center of Clinton effort has been Podesta, a commanding presence in Clinton’s orbit. When asked in Iowa just before the caucuses about how Podesta yields sticks and carrots, Campaign Manager Robbie Mook offered a puzzled look. “He’s John Podesta, you just do what he says,” Mook replied. It has been Podesta who has been charged with keeping the campaign coherent in the face of stumbles and setbacks, something that the 2008 Clinton operation failed to do. And it has been Podesta— part coach, part gatekeeper, judge and jury, director, fundraiser, policy wonk and strategist—who has overseen the Clinton effort.