U.S. President Obama announces nominees Pritzker and Froman at White House in Washington

President Barack Obama announces Penny Pritzker as his nominee for commerce secretary and Mike Froman as his pick for U.S. trade representative at the White House on Thursday. (Jason Reed, Reuters photo / May 2, 2013)

Still, business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday welcomed Pritzker, whose personal network, business credentials and family name have served Obama well.

For instance, as soon as financial overhaul legislation cleared Congress, the president set out to repair relationships with business leaders who felt stung by his criticism of Wall Street's "fat-cat bankers." In Chicago, Pritzker convened a group of executives, many of them friends, to meet with Obama while he was in town for Democratic fundraisers. The president even took notes.

"She wanted to make sure he was hearing strong points of view," Byron Trott, founder of Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners and a Republican, told the Tribune in February. Trott, who attended the meeting with the president, later added, "She knows the president, and she's willing to be firm with the president."

Four years ago, Pritzker withdrew from consideration as commerce secretary, citing family obligations. At that time, the peak of the financial crisis, Pritzker was managing a large portion of the family's billions in assets.

Advisers to the president say Obama has wanted to name Pritzker for months now, because of her work in building five companies and work on the president's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and on the Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

While her friendship with the president will give her instant credibility, she has few to no allies within organized labor. Hyatt has long battled the Unite Here union 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 Pritzker stepped down, a union official said she "has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss."

The fight with Unite Here has grown intensely personal. The union and its allies have confronted Hyatt board members at their workplaces, reproached Pritzker-backed charities and produced a movie about a then-Pritzker family-owned subsidiary's decision to shut down an East Chicago manufacturing facility and accept millions in tax incentives to move jobs to Louisiana.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a statement, called Pritzker a "champion for our students and our city" who has shown "incredible commitment and leadership in her every business, civic and philanthropic endeavor."

If Pritzker becomes commerce secretary, it remains to be seen how she will adapt to the heightened scrutiny that comes with a Cabinet post and whether she can rebuild an agency that has been without a permanent leader since John Bryson resigned in June 2012, citing medical reasons. The department has a $7.5 billion budget and nearly 47,000 employees worldwide.

Pritzker, at least, is accustomed to numbers of that magnitude.




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