The US Embassy in Oslo has been without an ambassador since US President Barack Obama nominated a new envoy to replace Barry White, who had held the post since 2009. White left Oslo in late September and is due to be replaced by a New York businessman who also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help get Obama reelected.
George James Tsunis, age 45 of Long Island, has since faced confirmation hearings in the US Senate, as do all ambassador nominations in the US. His arrival in Oslo was said to hinge on the results of the confirmation process and other “practical matters.”
Tsunis is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Chartwell Hotels, which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels throughout the US’ northeast and mid-Atlantic states. He’ll be moving to a country that remains among the few without Hilton, Marriott or Intercontinental hotels, but which produced the founder of the huge Hilton hotel chain itself.
Tsunis has an unusual background for the post of a Democratic president’s ambassador, since he was a member of the Republican Party until he switched parties and registered as a Democrat in November 2009, after Obama had been elected to his first term as US president. Newspaper Newsday, which specializes in covering Tsunis’ home district of Long Island, reported that as late as 2008, Tsunis donated USD 50,000 to the campaign of Obama’s first challenger, US Senator John McCain.
He changed sides and went on to become a major fundraiser for Obama, according to Newsday (external link), just as White had been. All told, Tsunis raised and donated nearly USD 1.4 million for Obama’s reelection campaign.
New venture into diplomacy
Now he’ll be Obama’s representative in Norway, said to be his first venture into foreign policy and international diplomacy. In addition to his hotel business and managing his family’s real estate holdings, Tsunis was a partner in the law firm Rivkin Radler. He holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a law degree from St John’s University. He and his wife Olga have three children.
One local Long Island politicians, however, told Newsday that Tsunis “doesn’t just raise money. I’ve been greatly impressed with his knowledge and expertise on a range of foreign policy issues.” Another called him “a well-liked guy” who “played his cards properly.”