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Penny Pritzker, commerce secretary?

Chicago hotel scion, businesswoman and Obama mega-bundler Penny Pritzker is said to be in the mix once more — in fact, there’s chatter here that she’s already the pick — to be secretary of commerce. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Chicago hotel scion, businesswoman and Obama mega-bundler Penny Pritzker is said to be in the mix once more — in fact, there’s chatter here that she’s already the pick — to be secretary of commerce.

Pritzker, now ranked 255th on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, was reportedly in the hunt for that job in 2008. But she withdrew her name apparently because of toxic subprime loans involving a failed bank partially owned by her family. There were also concerns that her $1.8 billion net worth included offshore accounts.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Her re-emergence as a contender, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, would indicate the White House doesn’t feel those matters would affect her confirmation chances this time. (After all, at least 47 percent of the electorate didn’t hold offshore accounts against Mitt Romney.)

Pritzker, who bundled at least $500,000 for President Obama’s reelection, was the 2008 Obama campaign’s national finance chairman and national co-chairman of the 2012 campaign.

Pritzker would be the third woman to head the department, which includes a hodgepodge of a dozen agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Census Bureau, and the Patent and Trademark Office.

The Commerce Department, often seen as a prime target for elimination, also seems to be a curiously unlucky posting. Secretary Malcolm Baldrige died in a rodeo accident in 1987 when his horse in a calf-roping competition fell on him.

Nine years later, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was on an official trade mission when his plane crashed in Croatia. And last June, Secretary John Bryson resigned after suffering a seizure and getting into two hit-and-run crashes while driving in California.

No tears for LaHood

We couldn’t help but feel sorry for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood after he announced he was stepping down from his post once a successor is confirmed.

We imagined the Illinois Republican might be a bit forlorn in his post-Cabinet life, with no packed daily agenda or underlings in the hallways wishing him a “Good morning, Mr. Secretary!” He even told a blogger from his native Illinois that he hopes someone remembers him once he’s left office.

“When I walk out of here, I hope the phone starts ringing with some opportunities for future endeavors,” he told Carol Felstenthal of Chicago magazine, who asked whether he wanted to lobby. “I don’t have the slightest idea what opportunities are out there.”

Ah, but we do. The future could be quite rosy (make that green) for LaHood.

Overseeing the vast — and more importantly, moneyed — portfolio at Transportation means that he’s perfectly positioned to pull down some big bucks.

If he wants to go the trade-association route, he could be looking at a multimillion-dollar salary. According to an analysis by CEO Update, which tracks associations and nonprofits, Airlines for America President Nick Calio earned more than $3.6 million in 2011, making him the highest-paid head of a transportation organization.

Coming in second was Robert Somerville, the former CEO of the American Bureau of Shipping, who made more than $2.1 million in 2010. Seven-figure compensation packages are found among the chiefs of the American Association of Railroads, the American Association of Airport Executives, the Air Lines Pilots Association, the American Trucking Associations, and the National Air Transportation Association.

LaHood would be attractive to the private sector for a few reasons: He’s a Republican who worked in a Democratic administration, meaning whichever way the wind blows in 2016, he’ll fit in. And he’s got deep relationships in Congress from the 14 years he spent there.

Now, whether any of those plum association jobs would actually become available is another story. And there’s speculation that LaHood’s heart might not be in lobbying — but there are a few million reasons it might not be so bad.

More Cabinet whispers

The smart money seems to be drifting these days to acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients to become U.S. trade representative.

He’s been widely praised for his performance at the OMB, and no one seems to be holding his early years in management consulting at Bain & Co. against him.

Zients also might be looking for work soon, given recent reports that Sylvia Mathews Burwell, now head of the Walmart Foundation and former deputy chief of staff and deputy OMB director in the Bill Clinton administration, is moving in as OMB director.

Meanwhile, buzz at the Labor Department has it that economist Ed Montgomery , dean of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, who served as the department’s chief economist, assistant secretary for policy and deputy secretary during the Clinton administration, is being looked at as a potential secretary of labor.

In 2009, President Obama appointed Montgomery, who had worked on the 2008 Labor transition team, to the presidential task force on the auto industry, which dealt with the Chrysler and General Motors bailouts.

And at Transportation, while the leaders continue to be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Ohio GOP congressman Steve LaTourette and National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman, there’s talk that Jane Garvey , former head of the Federal Aviation Administration, who had been mentioned in 2009 as a possible transportation secretary, is once again in the mix.

With Emily Heil

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