In nominating Inez Moore Tenenbaum on Tuesday to head the troubled Consumer Product Safety Commission, President Obama tapped someone little known to consumer advocates, who nonetheless cheered her appointment because it represented a fresh start for the demoralized federal agency.
Tenenbaum, 58, was a highly visible and successful elected state superintendent of education in South Carolina from 1998 to 2007, as well as a key early supporter of Obama in the state's Democratic primary early last year.
The president also nominated a product safety expert, Robert Adler, to an open seat.
Even as he hailed the arrival of Tenenbaum and Adler, however, Obama offered only a tiny budget increase to the commission -- $107 million next year, up from $105 million this year. The commission has about 430 employees, down from a peak of 978 in 1980, to oversee about 15,000 products.
If confirmed, Tenenbaum would replace Nancy Nord, a former lobbyist for Eastman Kodak Co. who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Nord argued against many aspects of reform legislation that gave her agency more authority, staff and money.
Nord plans to remain a commissioner until 2012.
Consumer advocates lauded Tenenbaum's selection even as they acknowledged not knowing much about her.
"She's not a name I was familiar with, but we're thrilled there's been an appointment," said Nancy Cowles, head of Chicago consumer advocacy group Kids in Danger.
"The CPSC is in really bad shape. They've been underfunded for years and demoralized" and need someone to lead a turnaround, said David Arkush of Public Citizen, a Washington consumer watchdog.
Though Tenenbaum is a relative unknown, the Obama administration said she had the vision and leadership skills to lead the agency, Arkush said, adding, "We're hopeful."
Chicago Tribune staff writer Patricia Callahan contributed to this report from Chicago.