WASHINGTON (CBS) — Another Chicagoan could soon join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. The president nominated billionaire and longtime fundraiser Penny Pritzker to be the next U.S. Commerce Secretary.
Pritzker is a Chicago businesswoman and heiress to the family fortune from the Hyatt Hotels, where she sits on the board.
With a net worth of $1.8 billion, Pritzker ranks 271st on the Forbes 400 list.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports Pritzker’s nomination fight will likely result in the usual partisan posturing, though she should sail through Senate confirmation.
She’d been vetted, and her nomination was set weeks ago, with the official announcement waiting for other pieces of the cabinet puzzle to fit together first.
That Obama announced her nomination on Pritzker’s 54th birthday was just a coincidence.
“For your birthday present, you get to go through confirmation. It’s going to be great,” Obama said Thursday morning at the White House.
The line got a laugh in the White House Rose Garden, but to those who’ve been there, it’s no joke.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, “There are some sore losers on the other side, and they’re just making it as difficult as possible for the president to assemble his team.”
However, for Pritzker, an ongoing labor dispute between the family hotel chain and its union workers, and the family’s failed Superior Bank – where some investors lost much of their life savings more than a decade ago – could be troublesome issues during those hearings.
Pritzker herself made no comment on the nomination on Thursday, but her own YouTube channel features a 2008 video in which she talks about recognizing mistakes and correcting them.
“A leader needs to be able to know when the team is on the wrong course, or needs to make a mid-course correction, and then needs to coach that team in a way that it can get back on the right course so that one leads to a successful outcome,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker has done a lot in her career, both in business and civic affairs.
Her brother J.B. Pritzker said, “Our family believes strongly that public service is a high calling.”
Durbin said to call her anti-labor was a mistake.
“I called a private meeting with her and some of the labor leaders last November, and she couldn’t have been more forthcoming and cooperative,” he said.
Hyatt claims its Chicago employees are innocent victims of a battle over unionizing employees elsewhere.
And Pritzker herself has claimed the family was blameless in the collapse of Superior Bank.
Former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley said controversy comes with the territory.
“If you’re going to say ‘Let’s get someone who has no problems, no issues,’ then that’s probably somebody who’s never done anything in their life,” Daley said.
The Pritzker-Obama ties go back to when her kids were coached by Michelle’s Obama’s brother on the basketball court, but she went on to become a loyal supporter, sensational fundraiser, and staunch defender when some early backers became disillusioned.
She’s been rewarded with the Cabinet post she’d wanted from the start.