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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.

By Washington Post Editor  |  November 20, 2008; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Cabinet , Cast of Characters  
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So now Obama has to find ANOTHER hotel heiress with an alliterative name to be his Commerce Secretary...


Posted by: nathanirwin | November 21, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"he will try to pick folk who are competent"

Well, I guess if you drink the kool-aide, then you can believe that selecting the "smart, competent" who created the financial mess are the people to put in charge of finding the resolutions.

If you want to know what the truly smart financial people think of Barry and his pragmatism, look at the stock market's crash since the election became a certainly on 11/4/2008. People who know aren't going to risk their money on "hope and "change" nor Obama's 4-yr experimentation to see what might work.

Just don't let Barry wear a red cardigan when he gives his "malaise" speech blasting the American people for their expectations and mandating 58% thermostats.

The Obama-pression is upon us.

Posted by: LogicalSC | November 20, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm not so sure she would have gotten the nod. The R's would have a field day with Pritzker's involvement with Superior Bank (an Illinois Bank that went under due to problems with subprime loans) if Penny was nominated.

I think that a person who inherits millions/billions is a less than ideal representative of the American small businessperson.

Posted by: chiguy | November 20, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

If President-elect Obama really wanted to think in terms of mold-breaking, he'd ask why we need a Department of Commerce at all.

Some of the department constituent agencies, like NOAA, serve genuine national needs, but they don't need a department secretary to do that. Much of what Commerce Secretaries have traditionally done is raise money for the President's party and perform a cheerleading function for American businesses, especially those engaged in world commerce. At one time -- back during the Coolidge administration -- the Commerce Department and its secretary were a big deal in American government. The necessity for the top of that department and its coordinating bureaucracy in this era is not evident, however. It's time to make a change.

Posted by: jbritt3 | November 20, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse



Posted by: ASinMoCo | November 20, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Obama should pick former Va. Lt. Governor Don Beyer for Commerce Secretary. As Lt. Governor in the 90s, Beyer promoted a business-sense, pragmatic style of government, and was instrumental in paving the way for the Northern Va. high-tech boom.

He's also a long-time small businessman, having built the Don Beyer Automotive Group from one Volvo dealership started by his father in the early 70s into a fleet of dealerships (Volvo, Subaru, Land Rover, Kia) across Northern Virginia and down to Winchester.

And lastly, he was an early supporter of Barack's, serving on his National Finance Committee.

Beyer would be great as Sec. of Commerce, and his even-handed, cool temperment is a perfect match for Obama.

Posted by: cale1 | November 20, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I suppose after 2 yrs. of active political campaigning, the press suffers from"pcs" (post campaign syndrome)since they do not have Palin,Hillary,etc to write about. Obama is a pragmatist;he will govern with a consensus;& he will try to pick folk who are competent.Who would you brillant people suggest he pick? Maybe some "hockey mom" from Alaska, or a cowboy from Texas or Wyoming? The people who understand diplomacy,commerce,the A.G. office, treasurer,etc are those who have been there.Maybe the critics want Obama to fail.We, the citizenry, want him to succeed regardless of our politics. So,back off the "I thought he was for change" bit. If he governs with intelligent choices & pragmatically,it will be a change from the last 8 yrs. of stupid!!!

Posted by: tlrasnic | November 20, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

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