Pritzker: I Am Not a Candidate for Commerce Secretary
Updated 2:31 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk
President-elect Barack Obama's campaign finance chairman and longtime friend Penny Pritzker will not seek the job of commerce secretary, she said in a statement released today.
"Speculation has grown that I am a candidate for Secretary of Commerce. I am not," she said in the statement, which was released by her press aide. "I think I can best serve our nation in my current capacity: building businesses, creating jobs and working to strengthen our economy. It has been my great privilege to serve in the Obama campaign. I look forward to helping our new President in every way possible and am excited about the future under his leadership."
Pritzker also told CNN's Don Lemon this afternoon that she "never submitted any information for the vetting process to begin."
"I have obligations here in Chicago that make it difficult for me to serve at this time," she said.
That she never submitted to a formal vetting does not, however, mean that Pritzker did not want the job. Friends and associates of Pritzker said she had initially sought the job and was at the top of Obama's list to fill it.
The hotel heiress, who commanded Barack Obama's record-shattering fundraising operation, ran into business obstacles that prevented her from becoming commerce secretary, sources close to the president-elect said.
"The issue is whether she ultimately wants to do this, and it may be -- and probably will be -- possible that for business reasons, she probably can't do it," said a Democratic source familiar with Obama's Cabinet selection process.
Pritzker had started a review of her vast financial holdings, weighing whether she could disentangle herself to the extent necessary to meet Obama's strict standards for service in his administration. Assuming she could, and wanted to, Obama sources had said, the job would have been hers.
She was an early Obama supporter who applied exacting standards to his finance team, but as a 49-year-old billionaire, Pritzker hardly broke the "business as usual" mold, as Obama pledged during his campaign. Most commerce secretaries in recent decades were major donors for the presidents they served.
But Pritzker allies also had been confident that she would quickly depart from tradition by applying to Commerce the tough oversight and bristling energy that made her the most successful finance chairman in campaign history.
Now, we will never know.
The Commerce post is not a high-priority slot at the moment -- compared with, say, Treasury. But the buzz last night and today about Pritzker taking it -- or not -- added to the slow flow of leaks, speculation and actual announcements about the team the president-elect is trying to assemble. Yesterday, transition officials announced White House staff appointments for strategist David Axelrod, attorney Gregory B. Craig and some other close aides; and word leaked that former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle had been tapped to head the Department of Health and Human Services and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was Obama's pick for homeland security chief.
Posted at 2:30 PM ET on Nov 20, 2008
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