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Penny Pritzker: Cronyism or the right choice?

We examine the implications of nominating the Chicago billionaire as US secretary of commerce.

Last Modified: 07 May 2013 14:18
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Barack Obama, the US president, has nominated Penny Pritzker, one of his biggest fundraisers, as commerce secretary.

If you are going to be a public servant your job is to serve all the stake holders in society, and that’s what's concerning about Penny Pritzker … I think he [Obama] will lose a lot of credibility with the public...

Rick Perlstein, a historian and journalist 

But many progressives are uncomfortable with her appointment.

She has a net worth of $1,85bn and is the 277th richest person in the US.

Heading the investment firm PSP Capital Partners and an associated property firm, Pritzker Realty Group, Pritzker is a big figure in the Chicago business community and has raised millions of dollars for the president going back to his senate campaign in 2004.

She is a director of Hyatt hotels, the chain founded by her father which has been in a lengthy struggle with unions over working conditions.

Unions representing hotel workers say Hyatt is among the worst employers and are opposing her nomination.

During the 1990s, she chaired Chicago's Superior Bank, which collapsed in 2001 after trading in subprime mortgages.

The Pritzker family has allegedly used offshore trusts and foreign bank secrecy laws to shelter their wealth from income, capital gains and inheritance taxes. Penny Pritzker says most of her wealth is held by domestic trusts and that the offshore trusts were established when she was a child, and before US laws were changed.

Republican senators have promised to ask some difficult questions about Pritzker's alleged use of offshore tax havens at her nomination hearing.

She is someone who knows the business community … Republicans aren’t about to beat her up for Union practices at the Hyatt hotel chain, the Republicans in the senate generally have taken fairly anti-union stands in the past ...

Reid Epstein, the White House correspondent for Politico

But President Obama appeared to be unconcerned about her track record when he announced her nomination last week.

"Penny is one of our country’s most distinguished business leaders. She's got more than 25 years of management experience in industries including real estate, finance, and hospitality. She’s built companies from the ground up. She knows from experience that no government programme alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur. She knows that what we can do is to give every business and every worker the best possible chance to succeed by making America a magnet for good jobs," Obama declared. 

Penny Pritzker is a personal friend of Barack Obama and a longtime donor and fundraiser for his election campaigns. She was the national finance chair of Obama's 2008 campaign, and national co-chair of his re-election effort.

So is this cronyism or is Penny Pritzker the right pick to build bridges with business? And what are the implications of nominating her as US commerce secretary?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Kimberly Halkett, discusses with guests: Cathy Youngblood, a Hyatt housekeeper and spokeswoman for the Someone Like Me campaign; Rick Perlstein, a journalist, historian and the author of Nixonland; Reid Epstein, the White House correspondent from Politico; and Hans Nichols, the White House correspondent from Bloomberg.  

"I have never really met Mrs Pritzker or any of the members of the board or directors … if you ask me what is like to work for Hyatt … when I was a first employed there were many problems that I noticed, and I know that Hyatt can do a better job ... if they will listen to someone like me .... Hyatt really needs to go in a different direction right now." 

- Cathy Youngblood, a Hyatt housekeeper and spokeswoman for the Someone Like Me campaign

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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