Penny Pritzker resigns from Chicago Board of Education... CTU and others respond to pernicious career of Chicago billionaire heiress during her time as one of Rahm's seven Board members

The resignation of Penny Pritzker from one of the seven seats on the Chicago Board of Education was announced late on Thursday, March 14, 2013. As Substance has been the only Chicago news service to have covered every meeting of the Board of Education since Pritzker's first meeting in June 2011 (following her appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel), our record is the most comprehensive concerning how her votes and her remarks were typical of the vicious attack on the city's public schools and unions that have been the policy of the Emanuel administration. While it was a droll reality to have one those listed in the Forbes "Billionaires List" (current issue) sitting in front of the people at each month's Board meeting, the strangling of democracy by Pritzker and the rest of the Board members is now as much a matter or record as are Rahm Emanuel's attacks on public service.

Penny Pritzker during her final meeting as a member of the Chicago Board of Education, February 27, 2013. Among her other votes during that meeting was to change the date of the "March" meeting of the Board to April, so the Board could try and avoid the massive protests planned against the 2013 Hit List scheduled for March 27. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The announcement confirms what was long suspected, that President Barack Obama, in keeping with his policies against the nation's public institutions and public schools (viz., Arne Duncan and "Race to the Top") will appoint Pritzker to be U.S. Commerce Secretary. Pritzker announced that she was leaving the board, effective immediately, via a resignation letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Tribune reported. "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 every child has an opportunity to succeed, and I wholeheartedly support the work that you are doing to improve Chicago schools." In a statement, Emanuel described Pritzker as "a true leader in her every business, civic and philanthropic endeavor," the Associated Press reported.

Not mentioned in the reports as of midnight March 14 - 15 was the fact that Pritzker's votes as a member of the Board of Education supported every ridiculous twist and turn of the policies dictated by Rahm Emanuel from Chicago's City Hall. From the beginning, Pritzker added her lines to the comments by Board members following each Power Point that rendered virtually meaningless the policies of the Board during her 21 months there. Pritzker also joined in every unanimous vote on the Board, whether to repeat the lies that CPS was facing a "fiscal crisis" (June 2011), affirm each new "Officer" of the Board (including Jean Claude Brizard, then Barbara Byrd Bennett as CEOs, despite the fact that neither came from Chicago...). During Board meetings, as Substance reporters and photographers noted, her open hostility to the unions, and especially to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, was visible during any remarks by Lewis to the Board, not matter how conciliatory Lewis tried to be. Pritzker was caught on camera more than once literally snarling as Lewis spoke, whether the topic was the Chicago needed to plan carefully for the Longer School Day, or the problems that ultimately led to the first CTU strike in a quarter century.

While any number of comments will be made about Pritzker's time on the Board (from June 2011 when she voted in favor of the lie that CPS was facing a "financial crisis" and could not pay the four percent raises promised in the final year of the five-year contract through her vacuous comments in support of Barbara Byrd Bennett's lies about "underutilization" and a "billion dollar deficit"), the most trenchant came almost immediately from the Chicago Teachers Union. The CTU pointed out Pritzker's self serving betrayal of the public, the self-dealing that profited her Hyatt hotels (via TIFs) and the current public debates.


CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statement upon learning Chicago Board of Education member Penny Priztker had resigned:

“Penny Pritzker has a long and storied history as being an anti-labor, anti-worker kind of boss. She has supported policies that have had an adverse impact on working-class families and their children. As a member of the Board of Education she has worked to close schools, destabilize neighborhoods and disrupt the economic lives of thousands of public school employees,” said CTU President Karen Lewis.

“In addition, Prizker’s luxury hotel chain, the Hyatt, has benefitted directly from the TIF program which takes money away from schools and gives it to wealthy developers, and she’s allowed this to happen despite the conflict of interest and the damage it does to our schools. 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.

“She has been the subject of countless protests because of her business practices and for her support of policies that are harmful to students in Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Teachers Union has certainly been quite vocal and visible in those demonstrations.

“Now that there’s an open board seat, perhaps taxpayers will get a replacement who speaks to the plight of those who rely on our school district. The public has been advocating for an elected, representative school board for some time now. Perhaps the mayor will take heed to this call and finally appoint someone who is compassionate and dedicated to truly giving our students the neighborhood schools they deserve and not just become another rubber stamp for his failed school reform experiments.”


Melissa Harris' Chicago Confidential

March 15, 2013

Billionaire Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker resigned from the Chicago Board of Education on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker declined to provide a reason for the resignation. Pritzker is being vetted as a potential candidate for U.S. Commerce secretary, sources have told the Chicago Tribune.

An appointment to that post would require her to step down from many roles, including the school board.

While the resignation increases speculation that Pritzker, a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama, will be nominated for a federal position, there is no assurance her candidacy will move forward. The cabinet post requires Senate confirmation, and a Pritzker nomination likely would face opposition from critics.

Pritzker is a board member of Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family, and is embroiled in a long-running dispute with its hospitality workers' union in Chicago and several other cities.

White House officials have acknowledged that Pritzker is under consideration for the Commerce job, but opposition, particularly from labor unions, has been strong, according to union officials and Democrats familiar with the nomination process.

Pritzker withdrew from consideration for the Commerce post four years ago because of family obligations. She was overseeing billions in assets for one of the richest families in the country during the peak of the financial crisis.

Pritzker's resignation letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not refer to the potential Cabinet position. "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 every child has an opportunity to succeed, and I wholeheartedly support the work that you are doing to improve Chicago schools."

The family recently concluded a 10-year process of selling off businesses and real estate holdings and dividing up the proceeds among cousins. The end of the so-called family agreement has left participating cousins with more than $1 billion. Pritzker is worth an estimated $1.85 billion, putting her at No. 825 on Forbes' list of the world's richest.

In a statement, Emanuel said: "Throughout (Pritzker's) 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."

A spokeswoman for Emanuel said the mayor is in the process of filling Pritzker's spot.

Pritzker's spokeswoman, Susan Anderson, said that Pritzker and her husband, Bryan Traubert, will continue funding Chicago education initiatives, including construction of athletic fields and Chicago Run, a nonprofit that supports physical fitness in schools.

If Pritzker receives a federal appointment, her resignation from the school board is among the first of many changes she will need to make. She likely will have to step down from Hyatt's board as well as divest some of her assets and sign an ethics agreement similar to one signed by new Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry was among the wealthiest members of the U.S. Senate.

That would leave several potentially contentious issues, including her family's use of overseas tax shelters and its oversight of Hinsdale-based Superior Bank, which failed in 2001. Unions, which have focused on the Hyatt issue, are among her most vocal critics.

"We know Penny Pritzker has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss," said Kristine Mayle, financial secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union. "Her policies adversely affect working families. She has worked to close schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and we hope she does a better job in her new position, if she gets it."

Although Pritzker was not the president or vice president of the board of education, she had a great deal of influence. She was often the first board member briefed on policy, according to schedules for former schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and current CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Attacks from the teachers union have included a cartoon mocking her and other city education reformers, and rallies inside and outside downtown Hyatt hotels.

While Hyatt and its hospitality workers' union, Unite Here, have reached deals in several cities in recent days, there has been no agreement in Chicago, Los Angeles and two other locations. Housekeepers and other Hyatt workers in Chicago have not had raises in years.

Pritzker's cousin, Thomas Pritzker, is chairman of Hyatt's board. But her public roles as a school board member and top Obama adviser have caused the spotlight to fall on her.

After Obama's 2008 election, Penny Pritzker joined two White House councils that focused on the economy.

In the 1980s, she graduated from Stanford University with a law degree and an MBA and rose through the ranks of her family business.

She soon assumed responsibility for the family's non-Hyatt real estate holdings. She expanded them to include senior living facilities, now held under the Vi brand; the Hyatt Center in downtown Chicago; residential developments; and an off-site airport parking company. Most of these holdings have been sold, pursuant to the family agreement.

According to friends, the constant criticism from labor unions has upset Pritzker, but it has not stopped her from wanting to take a role in the Obama administration.

"She likes to contribute at the intersection of business and politics," Greg Brown, chief executive of Motorola Solutions Inc., told the Tribune last month. "People like things they may not be good at. Penny happens to like it and can add value."

Tribune reporter Noreen Ahmed-Ullah contributed.


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