Penny Pritzker resigned from the Chicago Board of Education Thursday, laying the groundwork for the billionaire businesswoman to be appointed U.S. Commerce Secretary by President Barack Obama.
A former finance chairwoman for Obama’s 2008 campaign, Pritzker has been widely rumored to be in line for the Commerce post, a plum frequently used to reward campaign fund-raisers. William Daley, the former mayor’s brother, served in that same job during President Bill Clinton’s second term.
“I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the city of Chicago, its children and families during these last two years,” Pritzker wrote.
“Education is critical to ensuring that every child has an opportunity to succeed. And I wholeheartedly support the work that you are doing to improve Chicago schools.”
The mayor lauded Pritzker as “a champion for Chicago and our students, a true leader.”
“A native Chicagoan, Penny has demonstrated an incredible commitment to making her hometown and our city a place where every child can thrive and reach their full potential,” Emanuel said. “Throughout her career she has been a champion for Chicago and our students, a true leader in her every business, civic and philanthropic endeavor. I thank her for her tireless service to our students and our schools and I know she will continue to be an advocate for our city’s bright future.”
Pritzker is a member of the billionaire Pritzker family of Hyatt Hotel fame.
She is a huge charter supporter and a long-time education advocate. She was a contributor to Stand for Children, which led the writing of an Emanuel-backed school reform bill that trimmed teacher union power and raised the strike threshold while giving CPS enhanced muscle to extend the school day and year.
The bill backfired. Chicago teachers were so fired up by the mayor’s heavy-handed maneuvering in Springfield, they authorized a strike by a 90 percent vote and walked off the job for the first time in 25 years.
During the seven-day strike, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis held a rally using Emanuel and Pritzker as pin cushions.
“I am tired of billionaires telling us what we need to do for our children as if they love our children more than we do,” Lewis told the crowd.
Lewis issued a statement Thursday, deriding Pritzker as “anti-labor” and anti-working class. “We cannot imagine that someone who has a long history of bludgeoning Chicago’s working families and destroying public schools would be given a platform to continue these sorts of business practices on a national level,” Lewis said.
The Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation contributes to the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School and the Nobel Street Charter School network — all of which Emanuel is determined to expand.
Noble Street’s Pritzker College Prep is named after the Pritzker family.
Shortly after Emanuel took office, current Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was selected by the Chicago Public Education Fund to oversee the training of middle-level Chicago Public School managers, called network chiefs.
Pritzker is the former chairman of the board of the Fund that picked Byrd-Bennett for that job.
In December, the CTU geared up for a contentious round of school closings by mocking Pritzker and others with satire and a coloring book.
The union released a five-minute video of a scary bedtime story, “Stand Up to the Fat Cats,” accusing “The Rahminator” and cronies like “Rowdy Rauner” and “Penny Pincher” of privatizing public education.
The union video also mocked Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist and charter school advocate; Robin Steans, director of Advance Illinois and school reform organizations Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform and the Broad Foundation.
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