WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) –
Business executive and Hyatt Hotels heiress Penny Pritzker is the leading candidate to be the next U.S. commerce secretary, people familiar with the matter say.
Pritzker, a close personal friend of President Barack Obama and a fellow Chicagoan who was the national finance chairman of his 2008 presidential campaign, would succeed acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, who took over for John Bryson when he took a medical leave of absence last June following a series of car accidents attributed to a seizures.
A White House aide told The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal Obama hadn’t made a decision on the post, and an announcement likely was still weeks away.
The White House also has identified backup candidates in case Obama decides not to nominate Pritzker, one of the people familiar with the matter told the Journal.
Obama is filling out his Cabinet for the second term, which began Jan. 20. Open spots include secretaries of labor, transportation and energy and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The administration’s economic team is expected to be led by former White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who Obama nominated to be treasury secretary.
The Senate has not yet considered confirming Lew’s appointment.
Pritzker, 52, withdrew from consideration as commerce secretary in 2008. The New York Times said at the time some people suggested her family’s vast wealth might complicate her nomination while the nation was in the depths of the financial crisis.
Pritzker, a Hyatt Hotels Corp. board member with an estimated wealth of $1.7 billion, said then she thought she could “best serve our nation in my current capacity: building businesses, creating jobs and working to strengthen our economy.”
She helped raise nearly $750 million for Obama’s 2008 campaign. She also supported his 2012 campaign but in a lesser role, raising more than $500,000, records indicate.
As a woman, Pritzker would help diversify the Obama administration’s senior team. Coming from the business world, she might improve Obama’s ties to that sector, which the Times said doesn’t always trust Obama administration policies.
Pritzker has degrees in law and business from Stanford University.