President Carter yesterday nominated Philip M. Klutznick, a prominent Jewish leader and a former government housing officer, as secretary of the reconstituted Department of Commerce.
Klutznick, 72, would succeed JUANITA M. Kreps, who resigned from the Cabinet earlier this month.
If the nomination is approved by the Senate, one of Klutznick's immediate tasks will be to implement a major new department loan program for depressed areas.
Earlier this week, the House approved a $5.9 billion package of loans and other assistance Carter proposed two years ago as an urban bank. The Senate has backed a similar measure.
Because of Klutznick's background as a real estate developer in this country and his promotion of economic development in poor countries while a representative at the United Nations, White House press secretary Jody Powell said yesterday that he has "a great deal of experience in the two most important areas of concern" to the department -- international trade and domestic job development.
Klutznick, who would be the oldest member of Carter's Cabinet, was described by Powell as "a ver active 72."
Carter also nominated Luther Hodges Jr., who had wanted the department's top post, for a new position as deputy secretary. A consolidation of government trade activities in the department is part of an administration reorganization plan.
Klutznick, a past president of B'nai B'rith and chairman of the World Jewish Congress, was U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council from 1961 to 1962, with the rank of ambassador. He was the chief economic adviser at the time to Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, under whom he also served in state housing posts when Stevenson was governor of Illinois.
Long active as a philanthropist, Klutznick is the second Jew nominated for the Cabinet following a period of acrimony between the Carter administration and many in the Jewish community. The first, former Portland, Ore., mayor Neil Goldschmidt, became secretary of transporation.
Klutznick is a native of Kansas City who began his career as a municipal lawyer in Omaha. He obtained a federal housing development for the city and later was appointed by President Roosevelt as federal housing commissioner.
A resident of Chicago, Klutznick developed a pioneering model suburb there called Park Forest starting in 1946.
Klutznick has been active for many years in Middle East issues, including trips with other Jewish leaders to Egypt or talks with President Anwar Sadat. He was successful in suggesting that Northwestern University award an honorary degree to Prime Minister Menachem Begin when the Israeli leader visited this country in 1978.
Also that year, Klutznick met privately in Washington with Sadat, which caused some ferment in the American Jewish community because of sensitive peace talks then in progress. B'nai B'rith and the Zionist Organization of America denied that "Jewish leaders" had met with Sadat, but Klutznick said he had done so for talks of "no negotiable issues . . ."
Powell said the president met with Klutznick on Thursday, at which time the job apparently was offered.
Klutznick is a limited partner in the New York investment firm of Salomon Bros. and chairman of the board of Continental Foreign Trade Bank in Geneva. The firm he founded in Chicago, Urban Investment and Development Co., is now a subsidiary of Aetna Life and Casualty.
A fund-raiser for the Democratic Party, Klutznick gave the legal maximum of $1,000 to Carter's 1976 campaign and $7,500 to the Democratic Finance Committee in 1977 and 1978, according to Federal Election Commission records, the Associated Press reported.
Powell, asked if Klutznick's fund-raising abilities had something to do with the nomination, responded: "I really don't know what his fund-raising abilities would be."
Nevertheless, Klutznick is expected to help garner political support for the president in the 1980 campaign.