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Penny Pritzker To Face Key Senators For Commerce Bid

Penny Pritzker To Face Key Senators For Commerce Bid

With Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker set to be grilled by senators Thursday at her Commerce secretary confirmation hearing, Bill Daley feels her pain.

Daley, a son and brother of Chicago mayors, faced his own confirmation hearing in 1997 before he took the same job under President Bill Clinton.

“Lookit, I had never testified before Congress, so it was very tough,” Daley said. “I had a lot of angst about it.”

Pritzker, 54, a member of Chicago’s wealthiest family, is a business executive whose family founded Hyatt Hotels. She is a Democratic mega-donor and was nominated by longtime friend President Barack Obama, whom she helped get elected.

Her hearing will see her questioned not only about the economy, stubborn unemployment numbers, Alaskan fisheries and overseas trade — but about potential minefields. They include her offshore investments, role at a failed suburban Chicago bank and tortured relations with labor, including at Hyatt.

The hearing, at 10 a.m. Chicago time, will be webcast by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Thirteen Democrats and 11 Republicans sit on the panel, some of whom Pritzker has met while making the rounds on Capitol Hill.

To prepare for his hearing, Daley endured “murder boards” that had him in a room with four or five people firing questions at him. The rehearsals came as he tried to digest three or four briefing books the size of telephone books.

“It was like trying to memorize something for a bar exam,” he said.

Daley, later a chief of staff to Obama, said he took hits from senators and editorial writers. They called him too political; they noted ruefully that he was “from Chicago.”

His best advice? “Finally, someone took me aside and said: ‘What are you so nervous about? The senators don’t care what you say. They want to know who you are — not what you know.'”

For Pritzker, who has limited her exposure to the limelight, dropping the veil could be difficult.

Among the issues she likely will be asked about is the 2001 failure of Superior Bank, based in Hinsdale, where Pritzker was chair from 1991 to 1994. Pritzker also handled the matter after her uncle Jay died in 1999. The bank was co-owned by the Pritzker family and aggressively pursued subprime mortgages and car loans.

[source: chicago tribune]

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