By Thomas M. DeFrank, Kenneth R. Bazinet, and Michael McAuliff
Daily News Washington Bureau
President-elect Barack Obama is wasting no time getting ready to take over the White House 76 days from today—with two wars raging and an economic crisis clogging his in-box.
Fresh off his historic triumph, he may quickly unveil the leaders of his transition team—all of whom have been working anonymously for weeks—and announce his White House chief of staff by week's end. A new treasury secretary may follow soon thereafter.
"Change has come to America," the nation's soon-to-be 44th President proclaimed in his victory speech to an adoring Chicago crowd estimated at 240,000.
The Daily News reported last week that Obama will run a turbocharged transition. The FBI has vetted scores of job candidates, but Team Obama has signaled Tuesday it wants to be careful.
"Sen. Obama has thought this through," said top adviser David Axelrod on MSNBC last night. "I think he will move as quickly as he can, but I think he's also going to be deliberative about it and make sure that he gets the right people in the right slots.
"These folks are going to have an enormous task in front of them. You want to make sure you get it right. So speed has its virtues, but getting it right is also important, and I think he will strike a balance moving forward."
The biggest name on the President-elect's transition depth chart is John Podesta, Bill Clinton's last chief of staff.
His transition operation will begin moving today into 120,000 square feet on three floors of a federal office building near the District of Columbia courthouse in Northwest Washington.
Obama, a rookie senator from Illinois cloaked in a mantle of hope and change, trounced John McCain decisively to bring down the curtain on eight years of Republican rule.
The Democrat, whose eloquence inspired legions to his side, rode overwhelming disenchantment with the Bush-Cheney brand and the collapse of financial markets toward a historic victory. On Jan. 20, he will take the oath to become the first African-American in the Oval Office.
A beaming Obama, who strode on stage with his wife, Michelle, and two young daughters, spoke to a sea of cheering, weeping and hugging supporters at Chicago's Grant Park.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama added, drawing raucous applause from the multitude gathered on a crisp autumn night.
He insisted his victory was not just about him: It was about all those around him, and the people who proved that many of the nation's oldest, most powerful prejudices are dying.
Turning sentimental in the powerful moment, Obama first thanked those closest to him.
"I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next First Lady," he said, honoring Michelle, and looking as if he was close to weeping himself.
"Sasha and Malia," he said to his two girls, "I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."
He quickly noted the bittersweet moment that came a day after his grandmother, who helped raise him, had died.
"I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am," he said. "I miss them tonight."
While honoring those closest to him, he also brought the crowd in tight, as well.
"Above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you," he said. "It belongs to you."
Obama, who often spoke of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "fierce urgency of now" on the campaign trail, returned unmistakably to the civil rights leader's words of hope and struggle.
"Our climb will be steep," he told the crowd. "We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America—I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you—we as a people will get there."