Biden nominates fundraiser Tsunis for Greece ambassadorship

President Joe Biden arrives to speak on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, during an event announcing that his administration is restoring protections for two sprawling national monuments in Utah that have been at the center of a long-running public lands dispute, and a separate marine conservation area in New England that recently has been used for commercial fishing. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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.”

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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.

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.

He's the son of first-generation Greek immigrants to the U.S., and has served on the boards and committees of several Greek and Hellenic organizations. Tsunis speaks Greek and he and his wife both have extended family in Greece. He's been awarded the Saint Paul’s Medal, the Greek Orthodox Church of America’s highest recognition for a layperson.

In addition to his hotel company, which manages and develops properties in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, Tsunis is chairman of Battery Park City Authority, which manages a 92-acre development on Manhattan’s lower west side. He is a trustee for the New York City Convention Development Corporation and the New York City Convention Operating Corporation.

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.