In a controversial move, President Barack Obama has nominated billionaire Penny Pritzker for a position as Secretary of Commerce on Thursday. Pritzker is known to be a longtime supporter and money-raising machine for the president. Historically speaking, this move is not unprecedented. It is a well-known fact that presidents tend to chose friends or big fundraisers to their campaigns to take up such positions as a "thank you" for their committed support. To show the extent of this reward system, fashion mogul and legend Anna Wintour was rumored to be in the running for a cushy position as an ambassador to France or the U.K. Wintour had raised $2.7 million dollars for Obama's re-election campaign. However, an even bigger fundraiser of the president’s knocked Wintour out of the running: business executive and former Swedish ambassador Matthew Barzun.
But simply because the practice is traditional doesn't mean it's appropriate.
Pritzker's nomination shows that Obama probably hasn't been paying much attention to the national debate: one that suggests putting people with actual experience and study in the field in the chairs of these positions. It's really either that he hasn't been listening or just doesn't care.
Pritzker's ridiculously rich family has always practically made the top of the wealthiest families list at Forbes magazine since its creation. Based in Chicago, her family owns the Hyatt hotel chain and Marmon Group, with holdings in other banks, credit unions, and a cruise line. Penny Pritzker herself is founder, chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PSP Capital Partners as well as its affiliate, Pritzker Realty Group. Forbes has also slapped her with titles such as one of the most powerful women in the world and one of the most powerful people in Chicago. The position secretary of commerce as outlined by the U.S. government website, concerns itself with promoting job creation, economic growth, and sustainable development both domestic and abroad. Obama's train of thought must have partly been convinced that if anyone understood job creation and economic progression, it must be Pritzker, right?
Not so fast.
Pritzker also doesn't have a friendly history with labor leaders. A member of the Chicago Teacher's Union has criticized her "long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss." It was also said that her past policies had negatively impacted working-class families in Chicago, destabilized schools, and even had them shut down. However, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised Pritzker otherwise as a "champion for our students and our city."
A bank co-owned under her family's name, Superior Bank, also collapsed into ruins under their watch. Its collapse was said to have brought up charges on mismanagement and fraud in 2001.
Pritzker's nomination still needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Whether she truly will turn out to be the right person for the job or a mistake unable to understand the plight and needs of the everyday American remains to be seen. Still, we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place if Obama had skipped out on the billionaire pick and settled with a moderate economist.