Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Susan Crown on Why She Supports Mitt Romney

It’s common knowledge that two of Chicago’s wealthiest families—the Crowns and the Pritzkers—are staunch Obama supporters, so it surprised me to read earlier this year that Susan Crown, 53, was supporting Mitt Romney for president. I wondered: Why isn’t she in the Obama camp like her older brother, Jim, president of Henry Crown & Co.?…

Susan Crown It’s common knowledge that two of Chicago’s wealthiest families—the Crowns and the Pritzkers—are staunch Obama supporters, so it surprised me to read earlier this year that Susan Crown, 53, was supporting Mitt Romney for president. I wondered: Why isn’t she in the Obama camp like her older brother, Jim, president of Henry Crown & Co.? I called her to find out, and she told me that she has always been an independent and voted for Obama in ’08—but has been “profoundly disappointed” in the president’s performance.

A Yale graduate (’80) and longtime head of family philanthropy, Crown’s interests range from educational reform, healthcare, and the Middle East to helping women and girls in developing countries and her Susan Crown Exchange (“a social investment organization that connects talent and innovation with market forces to drive social change”). She has held two fundraisers for Romney—one at her home with Romney in attendance—and is set to introduce Ann Romney, who will introduce her husband at what they hope will be a victory rally tonight at the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumburg. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

CF: How did you get involved in the Romney campaign?
I have really never been involved in politics. I’ve been on the fringes most of my life. I’m an independent. I probably only cast a few Republican votes, but taking a look at circumstances in the world today, I am very concerned. I feel we’re at a critical historic juncture, and I feel that Mitt is the only candidate out there with the credentials and credibility and capability to lead us out of where we’re at today. I want three things to happen: I want a reboot of a fragile and faltering economy; I want a more secure, less volatile world; and I want the United States to reestablish its credibility and respect on the global stage, and I’ve seen all those things disintegrate over the past three years.

CF: Did you support Obama in ’08 beyond voting for him?
Yes, I gave some money. That was the extent of my support. I think he is well-intended, and I think he lacks the skills he needs to get the job done. He’s inexperienced.  He has never worked in the commercial sector. He has been the most anti-business president we’ve ever had. I don’t think he surrounded himself with people with professional experience; they tend to be more academic, and the day that really made a difference for me was the day he suggested that Israel go back to 1967 borders. That infuriated me. That was the day I switched candidates.

CF: Obama insists that there’s no change—that that has always been U.S. policy.
He can spin this any way he wants to, but for the thousands of families in Israel who sacrificed brothers and husbands and sisters to that war, I’m wondering what he’s planning to say to them. There’s a tension that has not existed before, and it has a lot to do with how challenging the conflicts are, but I think it’s also a reflection of interpersonal issues. He and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu don’t seem to get along very well. I watched President Obama on Super Tuesday in the [White House] press room talking about Iran, and he did not make me feel safe or confident as a citizen; he actually made me feel much less confident.

CF: Did you know Barack Obama before he ran for President?
I was on the Annenberg Challenge Board with him years ago. I don’t know him well, but Chicago’s a small town.

CF: That’s the board that Bill Ayers was on. Did you notice any particular friendship between the two of them?
Not at all.

CF: Was Obama a good board member?
Yes, quiet, thoughtful, constructive.

CF: Did you know Romney before this campaign?
I did not; however, my Yale classmate Josh Bekenstein, who was also my campaign cochair for the Yale Tomorrow Campaign [Crown served on the Yale Corporation or 12 years], was Mitt’s partner in starting Bain capital. I found when I went to Yale the curve was so far to the right that I was immediately rendered mediocre and Josh was on the far right on the curve—one of the smartest guys anywhere—and I figured if Josh could start a business with this guy he was worth knowing.

CF: I noticed in checking the White House state dinner list for British Prime Minster David Cameron that your brother was on it. Do you two argue politics over Thanksgiving dinner?
No, no. I have a big family (three sisters and three brothers), and there are lots of independent thinkers. There are family members on both sides of the fence in this election. My husband [William Kunkler III] is a lifelong Republican, and this is the first time the two of us have really have been on the same side of the fence and worked together politically, so he was the one who alerted folks that I would be willing. Actually he arranged for me to meet Mitt. [Kunkler is a fellow Yale graduate and Executive VP of CC Industries, a private equity firm and an affiliate of Henry Crown & Co,; the couple has two children, one at Northwestern and the other living in Colorado.]

CF: You think of people supporting Republicans as living out in the suburbs and especially in the Collar Counties. Are there other city dwellers working with you for Romney?
There are many, and I would say members of the business community who have been traditionally tied with one party or another have gone independent and are going with the candidate they think is best. There are a lot of very unexpected names.

CF: Such as?
John Rowe, Miles White, Chris Reyes, Henry Paulson.

CF: I can’t imagine that Romney’s statement that he’d cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood is going to help him with women.
Fifty-one percent of the voters are women, and there’s only one [Republican] candidate there who acknowledges that women won the right to vote in 1919. I really don’t think Mitt wants to monkey with social issues. He has enough on his plate with the massive economic issues, the national debt, the federal budget, the unemployment rate, and what’s going on internationally.

CF: I know you have to go [“I have the whole Rush transformation team coming out in a couple of hours,” she told me earlier, referring to her work as Vice-Chair of Rush University Medical Center.], but tell me about your philanthropic work in the digital area. Your rating system is launching on March 29?
It’s absolutely been a blast—the most interesting intellectual challenge I’ve taken on in my adult life. We’re working with several different organizations, but I suppose the most advanced one is Common Sense Media. We’re working on building a rating system for …digital media of every kind…. And we’re using a blue ribbon team of experts to take digital products and rate them on their learning potential, and also on what kind of skills they build. No one has ever done that before. Parents go into Best Buy, right now; any digital media producer can write, “Baby Einstein,” or “will make your kid smarter or great for math,” or “great for math disabilities.” There’s no standard of any kind. Some people think that everything that’s on the computer is a distraction or a negative. The simple fact of the matter is the average kid spends more than seven hours a day interacting with some sort of digital media, and we can either see that as a problem or as an incredible opportunity. We have chosen to see it as an opportunity. What we’re trying to do is make sure that what’s out there isn’t Cheetos, but is a Whole Foods offering. Let’s say there’s a math game and Common Sense Media rates it as great for 3rd graders and an excellent way to get positive reinforcement to a not-so-confident mathematician. Parents can give feedback, say, “I have a kid with Asperger’s who stays focused on this for 30-40 minutes at a time.” Or, “I have a first grader who’s very advanced at math but in a lousy public school.” There will be real feedback for parents.

CF: Back to politics for a second. Whatever one thinks of Romney’s politics, why so much ridicule on the personal side [with his looks and style]?
He is the eHarmony date of the Republican Party. [The ridicule] is baffling to me. I have really gotten to know him pretty well over the last six months and the more time I spend with him, the more impressive he is to me as a candidate and as a human being. It is not very comfortable for him to wear his emotions on his sleeve. His son told me a story that I used when I introduced Mitt [at the fundraiser]. [Mitt] was visiting his mother in Michigan and they had an old cabin that was structurally unsound. The floor collapsed, and Mitt and his mother fell through the floor. The son told me that Mitt had one hand under her neck comforting her and the other hand dialing 911. He’s the real deal.


Photograph: Steven E. Gross/Courtesy of Susan Crown Exchange


2 years ago
Posted by pol&pers

I'm always perplexed when people claim Obama is anti-business. They never specify. Is it the tax cuts they still enjoy? I actually had a positive view of Romney until he ran for president. He doesn't have the political skills to be president. He may be a righteous man, a good husband and father, but he makes the deficiencies of Obama slight indeed in comparison.

Israelis might feel more secure if they didn't foster those illegal settlements. I read enough foreign press coverage to know this is a highly charged domestic issue in Israel, too. I don't want Israel to be hurt, but the attitude that settlers own land they clearly don't diminishes support among those of us without familial ties there. The Palestinians don't deserve all the approbation, although obviously some are nasty.

2 years ago
Posted by BigBob411

Susan is simply naive and a knee jerk Israel supporter without thinking of the ramifications on the United States. She wants the US to attack Iran on behalf of Israel, but I bet she doesnt have any children in or eligible for the armed forces. I'm sorry, but as an American Jew, I'm not ready to sacrifice the best interests of MY homeland for the Jewish homeland which, by the way, is not respecting human rights of Palestinians. Aside from that, there is NO CHANCE that Iran would get a nuclear bomb and attack Israel and risk destroying Lebanaon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria with nuclear fallout. With all due respect, the paronoia is excessive -- to wit; an ignorant Susan Crown supporting a nitwit like Romney over an intelligent and proven leader like Obama.

2 years ago
Posted by Jr

So Ms. Crown says that she switched candidates because of Obama's position on Israel, which as Carol pointed out, isn't much different than that of Bush or other presidents before him. I'm surprised Susan didn't throw her support behind Gingrich and his buddy Sheldon Adelson if that's the most important thing to her in this election. It seems that she's also unaware that Bibi Netanyahu doesn't seem to have a great relationship with most world leaders, particularly in Europe.

2 years ago
Posted by John Powers

"I'm always perplexed when people claim Obama is anti-business. They never specify"

Some specifics then

1) Obama singlehandedly killed the Keystone Pipeline, taking with it 200,000 jobs and many billions of dollars in private investment and economic growth.

2) Obama took over 2/3 of the domestic auto industry and waged a hapless war against a surviving competitor Toyota with nonsensical "safety" allegations.

3) Obama is taking over the healthcare industry with a massively complex set of regulations and mandates opposed by 65% of the voters.

4) Again, nearly singlehandedly, Obama has effectively outlawed Religious institutions from participating in education and healthcare, by forcing many large operators in those industries to violate their religious beliefs to stay in business.

The list goes on, but those are 4 heavy handed intrusions into private business.

2 years ago
Posted by BigBob411

I tried to ignore John Powers, but simply cannot.
1. Not even the Koch Brothers (who own a tar sands refinery) estimate 200,000 jobs to build the pipeline. At best, there might be 3000 jobs for two years, and very few permanent jobs after the pipeline is finished...unless you count those who would be hired to clean up leaks or spills (precursor pipeline leaked 12 times in its first year of operation and damaged the Kalamazoo and Yellowstone rivers).
2. If truth be told, George Bush directed more than $17 billion in emergency loans to GM and Chrysler in his final weeks in that would have been lost to bankruptcy. The government under Obama later provided a "bailout" of $80 billion of which more than 50% has been repayed and the balance secured by stock; saving the auto industry reduced Michigan unemployment from 14.1 percent in 2009 to 9.3 percent, and more than 1.45 million people are working as a direct result of the bailout; experts conclude that neither GM or Chrysler could have continued to operate after a conventional bankruptcy because private capital could not be found to prop up the companies.
3. I don't know where to start to respond to Powers on the healthcare reform, but for starters there is absolutely no legitimate and informed person who calls it a "government takeover" simply because -- it isn't. There simply is no "complex set of regulations" -- that's just made up by Powers; and while there aren't 2012 poll numbers, for what it's worth: in 2011, 40% support it, 41% oppose it. Only 25% want to do away with it completely... so 65% is a ludicrous number. BTW, 25% of those who oppose it is made up of liberals who didn't think it went far enough. Oh, and for those who won't have their insurance cancelled in the midst of a health crisis -- they support it 100%.
4. President Obama announced that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. Under the new policy, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services – no matter where she works. And as previously announced, churches and houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to refer or provide coverage for contraception. But if a woman’s employer is a charity, hospital or other religious organization that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, her insurance company – and not the hospital or charity – will be required to reach out and offer her contraceptive care free of charge. Catholic Health Association said: “The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions. The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed.”

I'm sorry John Powers, your twisting the truth cannot go uncorrected. Hopefully you have some personal dignity and will be reasonably embarrassed.

2 years ago
Posted by vincent kamin

As a student at Burr School and Abe Pritzker, I have heartfelt
respect for both families, the Pritzkers and Crowns. Both men rose from simple beginnings. I loved it that Henry Crown once owned the Empire State Building--that was a big thing at school at the time.

I wonder whom they would have supported today. Both had
genuinely huge charitable hearts. Both forged enormous fortunes. Both cared about the downtrodden. Romney has not created any jobs in a long time. His calling was Wall Street where jobs today are not in great need. America's heartland is
in trouble. So far I have not heard one idea on how he can
improve their lot. He and Santorum speak in generalities about
freedom & religion, as if the Pilgrims were Conversatives. Unless off shore islands are the solution, I am sticking with
Barack. He knows where the jobs are needed. In the slums of
Chicago where he worked as a neighborhood organizer. One lives
in Kenwood/Hyde Park, the other has a myriad of addresses. All
in the 1% zipcodes. Where the trees are tall, and grits are
non-existent. Who's side is he really on,voter?

2 years ago
Posted by Lee Mulcahy PhD


Dear Susan,

Your family's internal divisions mirror America's. Indeed, they reflect the same result as the Aspen Institute: keep America divided. Therefore, the status quo changes little. Is there any huge difference in the way Bush governed than Obama? Sure, there are some policy differences but in the net net? Endless war and no regulation of Wall Street? Regardless, General Dynamics, the merchant of death, and Wall Street's JP Morgan Chase stand to benefit. The elites, like our multinationals and big $, creatively bet on both sides.

I just came back from an interfaith conference on the "Responsibility of World Religions" to foster community at the St Regis here in Aspen. Both our rabbi and my pastor spoke on a panel on how to foster community in the "biggest little town in America."

Your family has been described as "the owners of "Aspen," due to the ownership of the Aspen Ski Company. Aspen has four ski "hills," and your family has "owned" all four since the Justice Dept. allowed the purchase of Aspen Highlands.

Susan, we go to the same congregation here in Aspen. And yet, your brother and his wife, an accomplished artist, banned me from 1/3 of our town [including public lands] for doing a commissioned public sculpture and passing out a union organizing flyer advertised in both local papers. And now, they are attempting to defend the ban in court.

We both come from families of do-gooders: My 77 year old Pop took five of us volunteers from Aspen to Kenya to bring clean water to a village last month.

Susan, as adults, we may disagree on many things but we should be able to break bread together. Susan, u gotta want to create community. Up to you sister: let's show 'em how it's done.

lee mulcahy, phd

2 years ago
Posted by lee mulcahy phd-

Dear Suz,

Never heard from you. I think it's shameful that song that your family banned from all their hotels and leased public lands here in Aspen by that singer your family fired covered in that newspaper your family censored infiltrates our religious organizations in the Athens of America. The Aspen Art Museum is just chuckles, but AJC?

What does it say about the state of Aspen and her philanthropic organizations?

When your family's Aspen Skiing Company [Skico] was only 3 mountains--it was cited for "monopolist actions" against the competition, Aspen Highlands. Later, ROFL: Harvard was allowed by the Justice Dept to sell Aspen Highlands to Skico after Whip donated it to his alma mater. Big shocker. Can you say government is one big fat auction? The revolving door between big government, Wall Street, i.e. really big $, & elite institutions reveals the deep selfishness pervading the elites: Hello Larry Summers et al.

So now we have the 800# pound gorilla on steroids bullying its employees, small business owners, several deputy sheriffs, the forest service and even adorable mayor Mick sometimes. LOL, After my Crown "let them eat cake" sculpture the City commissioned went up, the mayor called me a tea partyer on the radio. Please recall I went to the Sorbonne, have a PhD, am an Eagle Scout, & was co-leader of occupy aspen. Its what we 8th generation Texan artists who believe in liberty do. All my family except 1 are tea partyers---no, not the racist kind. We're what you elites call "little people."

So you may have already heard about this: Under the category of ‘fraud’ and Skico, what’s the backstory here? A well-placed source informed me that a high-level Skico official was fired for extorting $ from outside organizations using mountain facilities? Could she have taken the fall for someone higher up? Rumour has it that the Department of Justice has launched an audit of Skico finanaces as a result. Perhaps a FOIA inquiry could reveal evidence of obstruction of justice?

Susan, it all starts at the top. Your company's amoral big $ ethics are shaming our town. We are a community. We are only 6000+. Let's end this feud, break bread, and agree to disagree.

lee mulcahy phd

2 years ago
Posted by Lee Mulcahy, artist, PhD

From local folk hero Johnny Boyd:


by Johnny Boyd, Aspen Daily News Columnist
Monday, July 30, 2012

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Mitt Romney’s recent fundraising efforts in Aspen have garnered little notice in the media, and the national reporters are missing the boat on this one. The story isn’t whether the wealthy can raise funds to buy a president — we all know they will no matter who gets elected — it’s the reasoning behind the decision to switch from the candidate they bought and paid for last election to this new greaseball.

Billionaire heiress Susan Crown has jumped ship from Chicago’s favorite son to the pandering millionaire. A recent Chicago Magazine article illustrates her reasons for the change of heart and political affiliations. She’s angry that the president hasn’t “rebooted” the economy because he’s the most “anti-business president we’ve ever had.”

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was Obama’s completely mainstream, though debatable, view that Israel should return to the borders it held before the Six-Day War in 1967. While it’s refreshing to know that the president is still able to offer an independent thought, it’s a shame he wasted it on this particular issue. It’s a no-win topic, no matter what stance he takes.

Penny Pritzker, Chicago heiress to the Hyatt hotel billions and an Aspen homeowner, was the subject of a recent New York Times story on her hesitancy to fundraise for President Obama. During the 2008 election cycle, Ms. Pritzker was chairwoman of Obama’s finance committee. It seems that she has lost the passion to raise money after pro-labor activists targeted her for the Hyatt’s anti-labor stance.

The state of Massachusetts actually boycotted the Hyatt for firing 100 housekeepers and replacing them with cheaper temp-service employees. It was, as they say, a big deal, especially for a woman busily raising money for a leader prone to rhetoric espousing the protection of the little guy. Walking the walk is always difficult when the choice is saving labor costs or continuing to talk.

What is interesting about these stories is the lack of responsibility for the state of America’s economy that these two highly educated and powerful women are willing to claim. Believing that Obama’s policies have been anti-business ignores the reality of America today. We live under a government completely beholden to business interests and the money they use to influence policy. In other words, billionaire heiresses control the government and are directly responsible for its policies.

In the past, the men creating fortunes recognized the worth of their employees. Susan Crown’s grandfather, Col. Henry Crown, employed profit sharing for his workers. He recognized their value and repaid them generously for their loyalty. Henry Ford famously paid his employees enough to purchase his cars, ensuring a healthy market and making his fortune in the process. These days it’s not certain that employees are even considered human beings as much as assets.

Members of the Crown family sit on the boards of several major corporations and are therefore responsible for the loss of thousands of American jobs. The Maytag Corp.’s outsourcing of the Galesburg, Ill., plant is legendary and caused the Illinois Legislature to pass laws governing the subsidies provided to large corporations. As recently as 2009, Sara Lee Corp. outsourced its accountants and bookkeepers to the Philippines. The Crowns’ wholly owned Aspen Skiing Co. is well known for importing foreign students to avoid paying a wage that people can live on in Aspen. If anything needs to be “rebooted,” it’s the thinking that lent support to these American job losses and disrespect for the plight of the worker.

Penny Pritzker was upset that the unions targeted her as the culprit in the Boston housekeeper layoffs. “I feel a personal connection with the employees at the hotel company,” Ms. Pritzker said in the interview. “The union attacks — it hurts. I don’t like it. It should be an issue between Hyatt and the unions, not become something personal to me.”

This personal connection to the plight of the $15-per-hour worker should be more than rhetoric. The Boston housekeepers had mortgages and credit cards and were contributing to the economy every day. With one phone call Ms. Pritzker could’ve saved those jobs. With one memo she could’ve changed Hyatt’s business plan of cutting costs on the backs of housekeepers. The buck has to stop somewhere.

Without a middle class to purchase their goods, the wealthy have forsaken a strong economy, a fruitful workforce and the nation that gave their forebears the ability to make billions for them to inherit. American workers have been sacrificed simply for the uncreative, short-term gains of cutting labor costs. The loss of these middle class blue-collar jobs has made us all, especially the billionaires, poorer.

President Obama isn’t “the most anti-business president we’ve ever had.” The policies of business are anti-business. Short-term corporate thinking is making its own bed, but it wants the government to lie in it.

The story that no one in the national media is reporting is that the billionaires are abdicating responsibility for the actions of the companies and the country they control. The scary part is that they actually believe the government they have paid so much to influence is responsible. Until they admit to their excesses, the country has no hope and will never change.


2 years ago
Posted by uptonsinclair41

Judge denies SkiCo dismissal motion in ex-instructor lawsuit
by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2012

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An Aspen man whose lawsuit alleges that the Aspen Skiing Co. and its owners are violating his First Amendment rights scored a victory earlier this month when a judge denied the company’s motion to dismiss the filing.

Senior Judge Thomas Ossola of Pitkin County District Court upheld Lee Mulcahy’s lawsuit against SkiCo, citing greater free speech protections afforded under the Colorado Constitution compared to the U.S. Constitution.

Mulcahy, a former ski instructor who was fired in 2011 after he distributed fliers to guests in the SkiCo-owned Little Nell hotel and in gondola plaza criticizing the ski school’s pay policies, sued the company and its owners, Paula and James Crown in February. He claims he was fired as retaliation for that move and for discussing instructor unionization.

In addition to firing Mulcahy — the SkiCo maintains he was dismissed for work-performance issues unrelated to the fliers and unionization discussion — the company banned him from all of its properties and from the four ski areas, land it leases from the U.S. Forest Service.

Mulcahy, who is representing himself and who also has an ongoing, separate libel lawsuit against SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan, argued that the ban from public lands violates his right to free speech.

He wrote in the lawsuit that he and others similarly situated will be “chilled and burdened” in the exercise of First Amendment rights because of the continued threat of arrest on public property.

SkiCo’s attorney, Lila Bateman of Denver, had contended that the lawsuit should be dismissed because Mulcahy’s allegations were not supported by sufficient facts.

Bateman argued that claims under the First Amendment only apply to “state actors” and that SkiCo is not engaged in state action.

“To state a violation of the First Amendment, plaintiff must either allege that SkiCo is a state actor, or that its private property is nevertheless a designated public forum,” says Bateman’s motion to dismiss.

Ossola, though, disagreed, citing a case from the early 1990s involving a Front Range shopping mall.

“While [SkiCo] relies primarily on federal case law to support its position, Article II, Section 10 of the Colorado Constitution provides greater protections for free speech than does the First Amendment,” Ossola wrote in his Oct. 3 ruling.

Ossola cited Bock v. Westminster Mall Co., in which the state supreme court held that Section 10 applied to the privately owned shopping mall.

The case involved two members of a political association known as “The Pledge of Resistance” who sought and were denied permission to distribute their pamphlets and to solicit protest signatures in the mall’s common areas.

In ruling that the Colorado Constitution protected the Resistance members’ free-speech rights, the state high court “based its holding on the fact that there was governmental involvement with the mall’s operation and the mall also functioned as a ‘downtown business district,’” Ossola wrote.

Mulcahy’s lawsuit alleges that SkiCo holds much of its ski properties as a tenant of the federal government and that it also owns nearly 50 percent of the commercial property in and around downtown Aspen.

When these allegations are construed in a light most favorable to Mulcahy — as Ossola must do by law when deciding the merits of a motion to dismiss — the judge found that, if true, they “could support a free speech claim under Article II, Section 10 to the extent that [SkiCo] may qualify as a ‘downtown business district’ under Bock,” the ruling says. “It is also possible that the level of governmental involvement with [SkiCo’s] operations could further support a free speech claim under Bock.”

Bateman did not return a message about the ruling. Asked for comment, Mulcahy wrote in an email: “The Crowns do a tremendous amount for their kingdom but the problem is greed and abuse of power. Aspen is not Versailles nor is it their feudal kingdom.”

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