Pritzker confirmed as commerce secretary
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Pritzker confirmed as commerce secretary

Billionaire real estate developer handily voted into office with a tally of 97 to 1

US President Barack Obama with Michael Froman and Penny Pritzker in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 2, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)
US President Barack Obama with Michael Froman and Penny Pritzker in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 2, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Penny Pritzker, the billionaire real estate developer and major giver to the Jewish Federation of Chicago, was confirmed as U.S. secretary of commerce.

Despite questions concerning the reporting of her income and her relations with labor unions, Pritzker won Senate confirmation on Tuesday by a 97-1 vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the dissenter.

Following the confirmation, President Barack Obama called the Chicago civic and business leader “a proven leader, a successful entrepreneur and one of the most accomplished and highly respected women in business today.” She was a major donor to Obama.

“She knows what it takes to build companies from the ground up, and she shares my belief in doing everything we can to help businesses and workers succeed and make America a magnet for good jobs,” Obama said in a statement.

Pritzker, 54, is founder, chairman and CEO of PSP Capital Partners and its affiliate, Pritzker Reality Group. Her grandfather founded the Hyatt Hotel chain.

Pritzker backed Obama in 2008 and 2012, and he considered her for the Department of Commerce post in 2009. But she withdrew her name from contention, reportedly because she was perceived as problematic at a time of financial and real estate failures and scandals.

Pritzker becomes the fourth woman serving as secretary in Obama’s current Cabinet. She is the wealthiest in the Cabinet by far, with Forbes estimating her net worth at $1.85 billion and ranking her as the 277th richest American. The commerce post has been vacant since Bryson resigned after saying he suffered a seizure that led to a series of traffic collisions.

She fundraised for Obama last year, but held back in her public profile for the campaign. A New York Times profile said her relationship with the president had become “complicated” because of persistent labor clashes with the Hyatt chain and Obama’s attacks on financiers and strained ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sanders, I-Vt., one of the Senate’s most liberal members, was the only vote in opposition. “We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of CEOs and large corporations,” Sanders said.

Also confirmed last week was Michael Froman as U.S. trade representative, a Cabinet-level position. Froman, who was the deputy national security adviser for international economics, is a graduate of the BBYO youth organization. In 1980-81, he led the movement as its Grand Aleph Gadol.

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