Depending on who you ask, members of the billionaire Pritzker family of Chicago are either the proud descendants of a financial genius who are doing good by funding progressive causes — or a secretive dynasty who now back radical no-bail laws and the transgender movement.
The most prominent member of the family today is Gov. J.B. Pritzker, 57, a longtime Democratic activist and supporter whose net worth is about $3.6 billion.
His sister, Penny, 63, was co-chair of former President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and later became his secretary for the Department of Commerce. This, despite her once serving on the board of Superior Bank, which the Pritzkers bought with $460 million in tax credits from the federal government. The bank later collapsed after being one of the first to traffic in subprime mortgages.
J.B.’s cousin Jennifer Pritzker, 72, a twice-married parent of three who was born James Pritzker, is, along with Martine Rothblatt, one of the world’s only two openly transgender billionaires. She retired as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army in 2001 after a 27-year military career and transitioned in 2013. Unlike the rest of her family, who have long been die-hard Democrats, Jennifer was a loyal Republican and reliable donor to the GOP until she became disillusioned with the party in 2019 over what she saw as its anti-transgender agenda.
Anthony Pritzker, brother to J.B. and Jennifer, runs the Pritzker Group private equity firm, and was the subject of a mini-scandal when he and his wife bought and then demolished a landmark Bel Air home, irking their neighbors when they built a massive mega-mansion in its place. He and his wife sold the property for almost $22 million in 2012 after finishing its construction.
Finally, Tom Pritzker, 72, the governor’s cousin and the CEO of The Pritzker Organization, recently made headlines when he tried unsuccessfully to prevent the publishing of court documents relating to the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Tom was first named in documents unsealed in New York in 2019 as one of a number of prominent men — including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — whom Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre said she was directed to have sex with, the Miami Herald reported at the time. (Pritzker and the others all denied the allegations.)
Gov. Pritzker, whom everyone calls “J.B.” but whose real name is Jay Robert, has been the governor of Illinois since 2019 and, according to a number of people who know him, is expected to run for president in 2024 if Joe Biden declines to try for a second term.
“I would not be surprised if he goes straight to the top,” Sugar Rautbord, a Chicago socialite, author and longtime Pritzker family friend, told The Post. “I know it’s something J.B. really wants. And he, like all the Pritzkers, follows what is important to him and not what the public thinks of him. The Pritzkers have never sought publicity. They’ve always been driven to achieve a certain kind of American success which involves making money.”
But Gov. Prtizker is making headlines now for signing into law a controversial criminal justice bill called the “SAFE-T” Act, which goes into effect in Chicago’s Cook County on Jan. 1, 2023, eliminating cash bail for those charged from that date forward. Judges will decide who remains locked up while awaiting trial, rather than requiring defendants to pay bail to be released.
“I’m pleased . . . to bring an end to a system where wealthy violent offenders can buy their way out of jail, while less fortunate nonviolent offenders wait in jail for trial,” Pritzker said at the time. “Advocates and lawmakers came together and put in hours of work to strengthen and clarify this law, uphold our commitment to equity, and keep people safe.”
New York and New Jersey have passed bail reform laws that do away with most cash bail for pretrial detentions, but the new Illinois law eliminates cash bail entirely.
Though a judge ruled on Dec. 28 that the SAFE-T Act is unconstitutional for 65 counties that sued to stop its passage, it goes into effect on New Year’s Day for Chicago’s Cook County, where crime has exploded in recent years, and 36 other counties that did not file suit.
Gov. Pritzker’s high-profile ambitions mark a departure for members of a multibillion dollar family empire who made it their business to stay out of the spotlight ever since the Jewish patriarch, Naphtali ben Yakov Pritzker, immigrated to Chicago from a ghetto in Kyiv, Ukraine, at age 10 in 1881. He made nickels selling newspapers on the Chicago streets, put himself through law school and founded the law firm Pritzker and Pritzker.
Nicholas’ sons, Abram, Harry and Jack, all joined the family law firm but eventually branched out into business, using family money to invest in local real estate companies and other firms. They made the family law practice into an in-house anchor for the dealmaking that fueled their burgeoning family empire.
But most Pritzker observers say Nicholas’ grandson, Jay Pritzker, was the financial wizard who turned the family into a powerhouse dynasty. Jay Pritzker entered the University of Chicago as a freshman at 14 and graduated from Northwestern at 19 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He later graduated from Northwestern Law School in 1947 at 25.
The story goes that Jay, who had a “Rain Man” type of financial acumen, decided to buy the first of what would become the international Hyatt Hotel chain in 1957 while drinking a cup of coffee at Fat Eddie’s at LAX. Pritzker noticed that Fat Eddie’s was very busy for a coffee shop and the hotel in which it was housed had no vacancies.
The hotel, which happened to be for sale, was named after its owner, Hyatt Von Dehn. Pritzker made an offer on the spot, scribbling $2.2 million on a napkin. He and his brother, Robert, went on to build a big family corporation called Marmon, now a Berkshire Hathaway company, that had interests in casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City along with Ticketmaster, Braniff Airlines, Levitz Furniture, pharmaceutical companies, cruise ship lines, janitorial supply firms, and a maker of circumcision devices.
An acquaintance of the Pritzker family who did not want to be identified remembers walking into a business event years ago with Jay.
“He took one look at the group and said, there’s no money to be made here, turned around and left,” the friend told The Post. “That was Jay.” Jay died in 1999 at age 76.
Today, the Pritzker name is visible all over Chicago, including the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo and more.
“The Pritzkers have the sense of being noble but not noblesse oblige,” Rautbord said. “They want to make genuine changes for the best for the community. They have a 24-hour work ethic whether it’s their businesses or their charities. But they are very private. They’ve always played it very close to the vest. What separates them from a lot of other dynasties is that they have moved very quietly and under the radar as much as possible.”
But the Pritzkers have recently come under fire for how they’re using their money. A lengthy investigation by Tablet magazine earlier this year detailed the labyrinthine funneling of millions of Pritzker family money into universities, medical schools, gender clinics and nonprofits in support of transgenderism and what is called “gender-affirming” medical care, the controversial treatment that critics say encourages youths to undergo transition surgery or take puberty blockers without first going through adequate therapy.
Gov. Pritzker has also signed off on transgender legislation, in essence making “gender affirming care” the law in Illinois. In 2019, the state’s Medicaid program began covering gender-affirming surgeries for its members.
Last year, he also passed the “Youth and Health Safety Act” — a new sex education bill that follows the standards of a left-wing interest group called SIECUS whose current standards call for teaching 5-year-olds about “gender identity” and instructing 8-year-olds on how hormone blockers prevent puberty in transgender-identifying preteens.
Jennifer Pritzker’s personal foundation, Tawani, leverages her chunk of the family’s vast fortune to make pro-transgender grants to universities, the ACLU, GLAAD, and smaller activist groups.
Even the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine now offers a class claiming to teach a new generation of doctors how to fight “misinformation” in the medical field, including alleged falsehoods about “gender-affirming hormone care.”
Activist K Yang, who worked at an LGBT center in upstate New York in 2012, said she traced the early gender ideology funding at the center, some of which paid for her job, to groups like GLAAD, one of the many left-wing gay rights groups that Jennifer Pritzker’s foundation has long donated to. Yang said she eventually quit her position, which she claims entailed going into high schools and middle schools to indoctrinate students in gender ideology before there was much national awareness of it, and now runs a site called StopFemaleErasure.
“The Pritzkers are teaching children and adults they can be opposite sex and these surgeries can be safe and effective,” Yang, 36, told The Post. “They are in the business of social change. There is a lot of money from gender ideology but they are erasing women and medicalizing children in the process. The Pritzker family exemplifies how private interests can weaponize numerous industrial complexes — medical, military and nonprofit complexes. They are weaponizing them on a local, national and international level.”
Dan Proft, a conservative Chicago political commentator now based in Florida who co-hosts a talk show on AM 560, got a campaign contribution from Jennifer Pritzker (before she transitioned) for his own gubernatorial campaign in 2010. Proft ran as a Republican but lost in the primary.
Proft said he knows the person many still call “The Colonel” well. In 2022, Proft organized a $35 million Super PAC to fight JB Pritzker’s gubernatorial bid and support his challenger, Darren Bailey. But Proft remains sympathetic to Jennifer.
“I spoke to him a lot,” Proft told The Post, referring to Jennifer and using her birth pronouns. “I think [Jennifer] is a philosophical and idealistic person for the most part. I know they say that the transgender industry is supposed to be a $5 billion industry but I don’t think [she’s] in it for that. I think the others are, but just in a transactional way. They want power and influence, and the transgender stuff is in the leftist zeitgeist.
“They are classic politicians,” Proft added. “They’re going to where the energy is. They want to be the primary financiers of left-wing activism, so all roads for leftism lead back to the Pritzkers.”
Repeated calls to numerous Pritzker organizations, including the governor’s office, were not returned.
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December 31, 2022 at 02:19PM