Chicago technologist Harper Reed joins President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign

One of the most recognizable faces in Chicago's startup scene joins the Obama campaign; former General Growth Properties CEO John Bucksbaum hits the lecture circuit

Well-known Chicago technologist Harper Reed has joined the Obama 2012 campaign as chief technology officer, the campaign confirmed Wednesday.

The former CTO of clothing company Threadless joined the campaign in late April and will focus on helping field operators improve voter contact.

"I am here to make sure technology is a successful force multiplier within the campaign," Reed said in a statement emailed to the Tribune via a campaign spokeswoman. "This is a campaign, unlike a startup where technology drives. What we do here is empower."

The Internet is expected to be as critical to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign as it was in 2008. Obama launched the 2012 bid in late April with a flurry of digital blasts, which included a mass email and text message, Twitter posts, a YouTube video, and an app that links supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question: "Are you in?" The New York Times reported.

Reed, 33, will be working with two veterans of the 2008 campaign, Chief Digital Strategist Joe Rospars and Chief Integration and Innovation Officer Michael Slaby. Slaby left a top post at Edelman's Chicago office to rejoin the campaign; while Rospars has remained involved at Blue State Digital, the online advocacy and fundraising agency he co-founded, while working on the campaign.

Reed, whom the campaign declined to make available for an interview, left Threadless in 2009. He spent several months helping Texas-based Rackspace, a website-hosting company. As for the remainder of 2010, Reed wrote on his blog that he did his "best to avoid deliverables and not have a day to day job," so he could spend time learning about "startups, venture capital and the business of business."

"Harper is not the guy you'd typically imagine inviting to a board meeting, but we always did and he was very impressive," said Nick Rosa, managing director of venture capital firm Sandbox Industries, where Reed recently served as an adviser. "If you heard him talk and speak, you'd think he was a suit, but he's not. He takes pride in being different."

Reed is hard to miss in a room. His hipster look includes an often-changing and often-wild hair style — from a mohawk to a flipped-up front like Jim Carrey's in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." He wears thick, rectangular glasses and gauge earrings, which make the wearer's lobes expand. On his blog, he declares himself "probably the coolest guy ever."

Last year, he launched CTAAlerts.com, which compiles Chicago transit system delays; Supertrackr.com, which tracks terms as they appear online in real time via a chat window; and ProximityCheckin.com, an app that simplifies the Foursquare check-in process via Google Latitude. In a blog post, he described them as "weekend projects."

He also "got addicted to personal informatics." Relying on his cellphone, a scale and a device called a Fitbit, Reed "manically" tracked his sleep, steps, location and weight, among other things, during 2010.

Reed reports on his blog, for instance, that on the nights he activated his Fitbit, he slept 7.1 hours and went to bed at 2:18 a.m. on average. He tweeted an average of 12 times per day. He recorded a record 21,423 steps on Aug. 9, which he attributed to dancing at a Lollapalooza after-party. And he spent 88 days, or 23.84 percent of the year, traveling outside Chicago.

Reed also posts his up-to-date location and past "waypoints" on the Web. A large portion of his waypoints are clustered around the Obama campaign's headquarters overlooking Millennium Park.

In fact, as I type this, it appears he's there now.

John Bucksbaum out and about

Former General Growth Properties Chief Executive John Bucksbaum was scheduled to speak Wednesday night at an Urban Land Institute Chicago event — one in series of at least four redemptive speeches he has given to industry groups this year.

Founded by Bucksbaum's father and uncle in the 1950s, General Growth rose to become the nation's second-largest mall operator.

But on the eve of the financial crisis, the company had too much debt coming due. And in mid-September 2008, the board learned that Bucksbaum's family trust had lent money to two of the company's executives without informing it. Bucksbaum and Bernie Freibaum were asked to resign as CEO and chief financial officer, respectively, in October 2008, but Bucksbaum remained board chairman.

As part of the bankruptcy restructuring, Bucksbaum sought but was passed over for a board seat at GGP and its spinoff, The Howard Hughes Corp. The loss of control over his family's business must have been devastating.

"He volunteered all of the tough stuff," Steve Janowiak of General Growth, who is president of Young Real Estate Professionals, said of Bucksbaum's speech to the group in February. "He's a very sort of open guy. He absolutely opened up and went through the emotional aspect of it. And said, 'Hey, it was tough.' Everybody had all of their eyes on him."

Originally, the Urban Land Institute invited the press to Wednesday's talk, "General Growth and the Financial Crisis: One Man's Journey." Executive Director Cynthia McSherry, however, rescinded that invitation in an email Thursday.

Opening up, it appears, is a relative term.

Lelyveld joining Joyce Foundation

Michelle Obama's outgoing press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, will be joining the Joyce Foundation as communications director in September, according to foundation President Ellen Alberding.

Lelyveld, a Chicago native, was the first lady's second campaign hire, joining her staff in 2007. Her last day at The White House was May 27, the Tribune reported earlier this year.

Tribune reporter Wailin Wong contributed to this report.

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @ChiConfidential.
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