At issue is the fate of Hamilton, a founding father Lew describes as a personal hero who served as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary and recently enjoyed pop culture celebrity as the star of a hit Broadway musical. In early 2015, the Treasury department sent a memo to the President proposing to put a woman as the portrait on the $10 bill, while recommending that the design also honor Hamilton’s legacy. Last summer, Lew launched a public campaign to ask citizens to send in recommendations for which woman should hold this new place of honor.
But in the ensuing months, Lew also changed his public description of the process, making clear that the center portrait is “not where we intended the focus to be.” In the interim, Hamilton supporters have made their presence known. In June of 2015, for instance, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called on the Treasury Department to do “everything within its power to defend the honor of Jack Lew’s most illustrious predecessor.”
The frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, has also said she has talked to Lew about her desire to keep Hamilton’s portrait on the front of the bill. Lew has also become a vocal fan of the celebrated Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which celebrates the life of the founding father. “It was really tremendous,” he told New York magazine last August.
A Treasury official acknowledged during an interview with TIME Tuesday that the Secretary’s thinking evolved over the last 10 months through public input, but declined to indicate how. Asked for President Obama’s view of the controversy, the White House responded with a written statement describing the process as one controlled by the Treasury Department. “While this is an independent process, we have long supported this effort,” said White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman.
Sofia, however, is not the only one who worried about this shift. Barbara Ortiz Howard, the founder of Women on 20s, the grassroots movement urging the ousting of oft-maligned President Andrew Jackson from the currency, says keeping Hamilton in his place would undercut the entire message of bringing women to the currency. “Our first representation in over 100 years and this is going to be our representation?” Howard told TIME. “It’s akin to being on the back of the bus.”