Obama Nominates Billionaire, "Heavyweight" Fundraiser for Commerce Secretary

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Common Dreams

Obama Nominates Billionaire, "Heavyweight" Fundraiser for Commerce Secretary

Pritzker yet another pro-corporate, anti-labor nomination

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

U.S. President Barack Obama announces Penny Pritzker, right, as his nominee for Secretary of Commerce (Reuters)

President Barack Obama nominated another corporate billionaire to his cabinet on Thursday, announcing hotel heiress Penny Pritzker—also longtime Obama supporter and "heavyweight" fundraiser— as his pick to be Secretary of Commerce.

As the Chicago Tribune reports:

Pritzker's nomination could prove controversial. She is on the board of Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her wealthy family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family.

With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker, 54, is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans.

Ahead of her nomination, a petition organized by CREDO Action urged Obama not to nominate Pritzker, calling her "an anti-worker business mogul who should not be appointed to head the Commerce Department."

The Chicago Tribune adds:

Pritzker also could draw fire from labor leaders. Hyatt has long battled Unite Here in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. And Pritzker, who served on the Chicago Board of Education until she resigned in March, has been harshly criticized by the Chicago Teachers Union. When she stepped down, a union official said she "has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss. [...]

She could also face scrutiny over the collapse of Superior Bank, which was co-owned by her family. The bank, based in Hinsdale, Ill., was involved in subprime mortgage lending, and its failure in 2001 stirred charges of fraud and mismanagement.

The Tribune reports that Pritzker stepped down from the Chicago Board of Education in March just "days before Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he had targeted 53 elementary schools and a high school program to close, affecting an estimated 30,000 students."

Such a move allowed Pritzker to avoid "a politically unpopular vote" and "further protests" from angry community members and unionized teachers who loudly objected to the closing.

"We know Penny Pritzker has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss," Kristine Mayle, financial secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, told the Tribune in March. "Her policies adversely affect working families. She has worked to close schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and we hope she does a better job in her new position, if she gets it."

And investigative reporter Dennis Bernstein says that Pritzker's nomination is additionally controversial becuase of her involvment in a sub-prime mortgage scandal and the collapse of Superior Bank in Chicago in 2001.

According to Bernstein:

Penny Pritzker played fast and loose with the American Dream. Her pioneering sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior for a billion dollar cost to tax payers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed. Pritzker, whose family controls Hyatt Regency Hotels, is in the top one percent of the one percent. Her extreme wealth and privilege has not only made her virtually untouchable by law enforcement, but will now allow her to cleanse her sordid sub-prime banking record by becoming the first woman Secretary of Commerce.

During the official nomination ceremoney, Obama said of Pritzker, "She knows from experience that no government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur."

But as blogger DS Wright suggests at FireDogLake, wouldn't a better Commerce Secretary be someone who was not "at odds with labor unions" or one without "problems complying with bank regulations".

Pritzker's nomination now awaits a confirmation process in the Senate.

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