President Barack Obama announced today his nomination of Penny Pritzker, a Chicago business executive and former member of the Chicago Board of Education, to take on the role of U.S. Secretary of Commerce, reports USA Today.
Ranked as the 271st richest American in Forbes magazine, Pritzker is a longtime Obama supporter. She was his national finance chair in 2008 and his campaign co-chair in 2012, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for him over the course of his two campaigns. The president had considered Pritzker for the same position in 2008, but she withdrew her name from consideration.
Pritzker is currently on the board of the Hyatt Hotels Corp., founded by her uncle Jay Pritzker. Obama cited her business experience when he announced her nomination.
The president went on to say that he expected Pritzker and trade representative nominee, Mike Froman, to work on the administration’s top priorities: “To grow the economy, create good middle-class jobs, and make sure that the next generation prospers.”
Pritzker has contributed both time and resources toward Chicago’s public education system as chairman for The Aspen Institute’s Skills for America’s Future Initiative, which works with businesses and community colleges to prepare workers for jobs in the 21st century. She also chaired the Chicago Public Education Fund, which was the first venture philanthropy (modeled after practices used by venture capitalists, who contribute money in exchange for a stake and leadership role) that raised private equity to invest in public schools. Additionally, the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation funds initiatives meant to strengthen school leadership and improve public education.
The Commerce secretary nominee also contributed private dollars to help fund a principal merit pay plan in Chicago.
But Pritzker’s work in education has not been without controversy. Pritzker stepped down from her Board of Education position shortly before Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his intent to close 53 of Chicago’s schools.
Kristine Mayle, financial secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, that Pritzker “has worked to close schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and we hope she does a better job in her new position.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.