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Biden Nominates Greek-American Tsunis for Greece Ambassadorship

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced plans Friday to nominate George Tsunis, an influential Democratic fundraiser and hotelier, to be his envoy to Greece. Tsunis had a previous ambassadorial nomination fall apart.

Former President Barack Obama picked Tsunis in 2013 to serve as his nominee to Norway. But the Chartwell Hotels founder abandoned the nomination after a disastrous confirmation hearing in which he admitted having never visited Norway and mistakenly referred to the country's head of state as "president" rather than "prime minister." 

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, pushed hard for Tsunis to get a coveted ambassadorial nomination, according to a person familiar with the administration's thinking on the matter. The individual was not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Menendez, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has influence over the pace of confirmation hearings for ambassadorial nominees.

Tsunis should be more prepared for his upcoming confirmation hearing. 

The son of Greek immigrants from Nafpaktos – James and Eleni Tsunis – George Tsunis earned his bachelor's degree from New York University and his law degree from St. John's University and practiced law at Long Island New York’s largest law firm before founding Chartwell Hotels. He continues to reside with his wife Olga and their three children in Long Island, New York.

Besides his family connections to Greece, Tsunis travels to Greece regularly and had a very traditional Greek American upbringing – going to Greek school, speaking Greek at home, being active in the Church. He is well known to the Greek American community and has been involved in major institutions in the community, including the Archdiocesan Council of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Faith and Leadership 100 Endowments, the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), and the Hellenic Initiative.

Former Archbishop Demetrios awarded Tsunis the Saint Paul’s Medal, the Greek Orthodox Church of America’s highest recognition for a layperson. Tsunis has also received the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations "Justice for Cyprus" Award, bestowed on him by former Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, and the joint American Jewish Committee/HALC Athens-Wishner Award.

At a time when Greece is trying to attract more American investment, Tsunis’ experience with Chartwell Hotels as well as his work as director for both Arbor Realty Trust and New York’s Signature Bank – two publicly traded companies – give him very deep connections to the upper reaches of corporate America.

The nominee started his career in public service and worked as a staffer in the United States Senate. Over the last 5 years, he has led major public agencies in New York. He was the former chairman of the Nassau Health Care Corp., or NuHealth, the health system that operates Nassau University Medical Center and currently serves as Chairman of The Battery Park City Authority. The Battery Park City Authority is the state public benefit corporation that oversees Battery Park City, the 92-acre planned development on Manhattan’s lower west side. He was appointed to both positions by then Governor Cuomo. Additionally, he is director of the New York Convention Center’s (Jacob Javits Center) Operating Committee and director of the New York Convention Center’s Development Committee.

As a political appointee, Tsunis’ political relationships will be particularly important for Greece. He has a long relationship with President Biden, having served as the chair of “Greek-Americans for Obama-Biden” in 2012, knows US Secretary of State Blinken quite well and is very close to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez. He also enjoys other long-standing relationships with other Democrat and Republican Senators on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Now that the nomination has formally been made, Tsunis will proceed to a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and assuming that the delays in confirmations by the full Senate are resolved, should be in place in Athens by the beginning of 2022.

Biden also announced four other ambassadorial nominations: former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana to the Vatican; former ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte to Panama; prominent Democratic fundraiser and telecom executive Douglas Hickey to Finland; and longtime senior State Department official Bruce Turner to ambassadorial rank as U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament.

Presidents on both sides of the aisle have rewarded donors and key supporters with a significant slice of sought-after ambassadorships. About 44% of Donald Trump's ambassadorial appointments were political appointees, compared with 31% for Barack Obama and 32% for George W. Bush, according to the American Foreign Service Association. 

Biden hopes to keep political appointments to about 30% of ambassador picks, according to White House officials.

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