Greek American businessman George James Tsunis was formally nominated by US President Joe Biden as new ambassador to Greece on Friday.
The long-awaited nomination by the White House comes less than a week before the latest US-Greece Strategic
Dialogue and anticipated signing of an updated Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), and together they signal the beginning of a new phase in the US-Greece bilateral relationship.
Tsunis has a strong background in the hospitality industry, given that he is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Chartwell Hotels, a company with a major presence in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states and with strong connections to Hilton, Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group.
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.
After an unsuccessful attempt to become President Obama’s Ambassador to Norway in 2014, Tsunis took on new private and public sector opportunities that made him an even more qualified candidate for ambassador.
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.