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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Strange Bedfellows: David Hoffman, Ted Cruz, Austan Goolsbee

How the the Chicago inspector general, the Texas senator, and the Obama advisor crossed paths in life.

Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune; Patrick Feller/CC by 2.0; Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

Austan Goolsbee and Ted Cruz?  David Hoffman and Ted Cruz?

Two Chicago guys, both Yale graduates—Austan Goolsbee, 44, an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business who used to work for Obama as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and David Hoffman, 45, the city’s former Inspector General, before that a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office here, the loser of the 2010 U.S. senate democratic primary against Alexi Giannoulias (who went on to lose to Mark Kirk). 

I’ve interviewed both men and found them smart, ambitious, and young enough to have all manner of public service gigs ahead of them, so I keep an eye on them.  

That’s how I discovered that earlier in their lives they had both crossed paths with the most famous or infamous (depending on your politics) politician in America—Texas senator Ted Cruz, whom Democrats and Republicans blame for shutting down the government in a bound-to-fail effort to defund Obamacare. (I’ve also written about Cruz and his conflicts with another Chicagoan, Rahm Emanuel.)

Goolsbee tangled with Ted Cruz when both were college debaters—Cruz at Princeton and Goolsbee at Yale. The clash of Ivy Leaguers was first mentioned in a GQ profile of Cruz, with more details in Slate.

According to Slate’s Emma Roller, Goolsbee bested Cruz in the American Parliamentary Debate Association’s 1991 Team of the Year contest, though Cruz won the next year. Roller also describes a pickup basketball game after the 1991 debate in which the Yale winners challenged the Princeton losers. Goolsbee’s job was to  guard Cruz.  As told to Roller by Goolsbee’s Yale debate partner, “Austan can be very, very funny. He kept challenging Ted to shoot the ball from outlandishly long places—’I bet you $20 you can’t make a shot from right here.’ Austan would bait Ted to shoot, shoot, shoot, and it was not a good result for him…. Ted couldn’t help himself from taking the shots.’” Princeton lost the game. Yesterday afternoon, in a radio interview with Tavis Smiley on his PRI show Smiley & West, Goolsbee himself recalled the debates and the basketball game.

David Hoffman and Ted Cruz were both law clerks, during the 1996 term, for conservative Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. For Cruz, clerking for Chief Justice Rehnquist makes perfect sense. For Hoffman, who is a Democrat, it seemed a surprising matchup.  Hoffman, whose law degree is from the University of Chicago (Cruz’s is from Harvard) explained to me during an earlier interview how he happened to clerk for Rehnquist: he was advised by UC people, he said, to cast a wide net and apply to all nine justices, and Rehnquist was the only justice who offered him a job. I asked Hoffman last July to share with me any memories of working with Cruz. Through his assistant, he “respectfully declined.” 

Hoffman’s name pops up regularly for all kinds of offices, including mayor.  Now practicing at Sidley Austin, and teaching at the U of C law school, it’s just a matter of time, I think, before Hoffman gets back in the arena.  And Goolsbee too.

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