WASHINGTON, DC – George Tsunis, Long Island businessman and philanthropist, cleared the first hurdle on the path to becoming the next U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, DC.
The next step is confirmation by the committee, possibly as early as the end of January, which will be followed by a confirmation vote in the full U.S. Senate soon afterwards.
The hearing was held in Room 419 of the historic Senate Dirksen office building next door to the U.S. Capitol.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the chairman of the Subcommittee on European Affairs presided, and he was joined by Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Democrats Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Republican John McCain of Arizona.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, but he made a special appearance to introduce Tsunis and speak in his behalf.
Murphy welcomed the nominees and congratulated them “for being called upon to serve and advance the interests of the American people in your respective missions and me thank you and your families for your willingness to serve your countries in this important capacity.”
All three nominees will be posted in Europe, and Murphy emphasized that “the moment is unique…you are going to be there at a very important time to talk about our common mission to for global security, whether it be as NATO partners or in our jo0inte efforts to combat terrorism, and for the growing economic partnership between the United States and Europe.”
Tsunis was joined by two other candidates who were also nominated by President Barack Obama, Colleen Bradley Bell, for Ambassador to Hungary, succeeding to the service Greek-American Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, and Robert C. Barber for Iceland.
As is often the case in American diplomatic practice, all three nominees have distinguished themselves in their professional fields, in philanthropic and social activism and as fundraisers for the sitting president.
McCain was tough on each of the nominees regarding how they will represent American concerns over the rise of extremist elements and the weakening of democratic institutions in Europe.
Schumer, however, expressed great confidence in Tsunis. “He is a perfect candidate for ambassador. He is smart, successful, practical, he has knowledge of foreign affairs, and he has a generous heart,” which he said will win the appreciation of the people of Norway.
“It is a privilege for me to introduce George Tsunis,” Schumer said. “He has a long and distinguished career both in public service and the private sector…New Yorkers have greatly benefitted from Mr. Tsunis intelligence, generosity and his philanthropic pursuits… that leaves no doubt that he is well qualified to take on this great task that awaits him”
After citing Tsunis’ growing up in Long Island, his undergraduate degree from NYU and his law degree from St. John’s University, Schumer said “he was born to parents who have come from overseas and in just one generation became Americans and contributed so much to this country of ours. He is a true tale of the American dream, but he has never forgotten his roots,” and noted Tsunis’ activities in the Greek-American community and his being an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Schumer noted Tsunis’ public sector experience prior to becoming Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chartwell Hotels, LLC; “which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states.”
Tsunis’ foreign policy credentials include membership on the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Leadership Committee and being a director for Business Executives for National Security.
Schumer added with a smile that the two of them will be the grand marshals at the 2014 Greek parade on Fifth Avenue.
Tsunis first thanked Schumer, whom he called a mentor, “for his support and guidance and imprimatur which has been very meaningful to me,” and then thanked “President Obama for his trust and confidence in me.”
Tsunis described the experience as an honor and humbling, and thanked his wife Olga and his three children, James, Eleni and Yanna, who were seated with him.
“I am grateful for this opportunity to serve my country and I would be remiss if I did not thank the many people who made this journey possible, first, my parents who immigrated to this country of opportunity and meritocracy seeking to build a better life for their family,” Tsunis said.
He expressed his deep appreciation for the sacrifices his parents made for him and his sister Anastasia and Vicki, who are both public school teachers, “to have the opportunities they never had.”
He said “I want to my mother Eleni, who had the foresight and determination to ensure that my sisters and I receive a sound education and a reservoir of love.”
“Today I would also like to remember my father James,” whom he called the embodiment of the American dream. “He was a busboy at the Roosevelt Hotel, eventually opening his own small coffee shop and then a landmark restaurant that we still operate 43 years later,” Tsunis said.