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Smita Shah speaks at a museum event./photo by J.B. Spector for MSI 0

Chicago CEO in the fray at Democrat convention

July 26th, 2016

Chicago businesswoman and civic leader Smita Shah has had a busy summer but this week tops it all. She’s in Philadelphia serving as a vice chair of the powerful Rules Committee for the Democratic National Convention, where emotions are high and the Wikileaks drama has become personal.

The Rules panel determines how the DNC will govern itself, and with that in mind it’s worked to soothe tensions between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders‘ camps. In a nod to Sanders, the committee formed a “unity commission” to revamp how the party handles super-delegates.

Shah declined comment on that and the Wikileaks case that put the DNC–and her father–in the spotlight over the weekend.

Shah is the president and CEO of Spaan Tech Inc., which helps big organizations solve high-tech problems.

She’s also the daughter of immigrants from India. Her father is Niranjan Shah, an unassuming and soft-spoken business owner whose name popped up in the Wikileaks email scandal that led to Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigning as party chief.

Some emails show how Niranjan Shah, a longtime Democratic donor, became persona non grata within the DNC because of ties to disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Niranjan Shah, chairman/CEO at Globetrotters Engineering Corp., had received state contracts while also donating to the governor’s campaign. The appearance of pay-to-play prompted the DNC to shut him out of events, emails show.

The elder Shah, who recently suffered a heart attack, has remained a quiet force on Chicago’s civic scene, especially to support his daughter’s philanthropy.

Along with a passion for politics, Smita Shah is a math and science geek. She just wrapped up a mentoring project at the Museum of Science and Industry, where she co-chaired the Science Achievers graduation, an out-of-school science program that teens. She’s also on the board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Shah was drawn to math and science growing up in the Western suburbs and then attending University of Chicago’s Lab School.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University and a master’s in civil and environmental engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It was during a post-college internship at the White House that she came to know then-President Bill Clinton. Her family donated to his campaigns and now Shah is following suit. She hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton last year.

“They’re like family,” she said at the time.

Shah has remained active in the Democratic Party. Along with the Rules Committee, she was a member of the Platform Committee at the 2004 and 2008 conventions.

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