Thursday, August 23, 2001

New boss, new address for Ambassador Reynolds

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mercer Reynolds is about to have a boss for the first time in decades.

        Never mind that his new boss is President Bush. Never mind that Mr. Reynolds will be U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, with top-secret security clearance and authority over an embassy staff of 100 foreign-service officials.

        The change is still a big one for the the soft-spoken Cincinnati investor, who left Wednesday for the U.S. Embassy in Bern.

        “I've never had to report to anybody. I've always been in business for myself,” Mr. Reynolds, 56, said. “Now, I have to request permission from the State Department before I leave the country. It's new for me.”

        When the University of North Carolina graduate presents his credentials to Swiss authorities Sept. 11, he'll be playing on a much bigger stage.

        Despite its small size — about as big as Massachusetts and Connecticut combined — Switzerland is one of the world's biggest financial centers, and trade issues have become paramount in any discussion of global economics, said Madeleine Kunin, the former Vermont governor who served in Switzerland under President Clinton.

        “It probably is a bigger role than its size would indicate,” said Ms. Kunin, a Swiss immigrant to the United States.

        The former ambassador acknowledged that the post is “a political plum,” generally held for political appointees and personal friends of the president such as Mr. Reynolds.

    • Staff: About 100 employees are divided equally between Americans and local hires. Of the Americans, about 30 are with the State Department, and the others with agencies like the Defense and Commerce departments, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
    • Residence: Built in 1913, the official ambassador's residence was acquired by the U.S. in 1947. Guests have included Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.
    • History: Mr. Reynolds will be the 44th U.S. ambassador. The first started duty in 1853.
    • The countries: Switzerland has about 7 million citizens and is about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. About 35,000 U.S. citizens live there. Bern, home of the embassy, holds about 319,000 people in the metropolitan area. The Bern embassy also serves Liechtenstein, a 502-square mile principality of about 30,000 people located between Switzerland and Austria. Liechtenstein, known mostly for its postage stamps and its tax-haven status, uses the Swiss franc and lets Switzerland handle most of its foreign affairs.
        “It's not a position of high importance in terms of national security,” said Stephen Bosworth, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a former ambassador to three countries under Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton.

        “It tends to be more ceremonial in nature.”

        About two-thirds of ambassadors are career foreign-service executives, while about one-third are political appointees, Mr. Bosworth said.

        Mr. Reynolds was indeed a major donor, helping to raise millions for Mr. Bush's campaign, and then co-chairing the inaugural committee with business partner Bill DeWitt.

        He also is one of Cincinnati's quietest but most successful investors, with stakes in the St. Louis Cardinals, U.S. Playing Card, Synergistics, Buddy's Carpet Barn and the Newport Aquarium.

        One of his early investments, with longtime partner Mr. DeWitt, was in the 1980s Texas oil business that brought a partnership with a young Mr. Bush.

        That turned into a friendship that culminated in January, when President Bush called Mr. Reynolds in his office overlooking Third Street in Cincinnati and asked him to fill the ambassador's role.

        He will travel with his wife and 16-year-old daughter to Zurich before driving to the embassy in Bern to begin the three-year term.

        “If my daughter were having a hard time with it, I don't know if I would go,” he said. “But she's very excited.”

        Mr. Reynolds, who said he “speaks a little French,” will leave most of the firm's investments for Mr. DeWitt to handle. He had to review all his investments for possible conflicts of interest, but ended up selling only one, a stake in a New York-based hedge fund.

        Training for the job at the State Department and other federal agencies in Washington, D.C., has taken Mr. Reynolds out of his office for more than a month. But the desk and walls still are dotted with several pictures of himself, his family and Mr. DeWitt with the president.

        The close relationship is what drew Mr. Reynolds into the campaign, and it continues. One of his sons is working in the White House travel office.

        “I'm sure the president would take my call if I called him, but I'm trying to reserve that for important phone calls,” he said. “So I haven't really called him.”

        He has hired three assistants for the job, specializing in the languages and international business skills he will need. He is focused on three priorities: running the embassy, looking after the 35,000 U.S. citizens in Switzerland and maintaining the active market of U.S. tourists in Switzerland.

        “Skiing and fondue aren't things I'll be doing over there,” he said. “I think the job in Switzerland is different from Egypt, for example. Switzerland is more of a business and financial center.”

        “I really haven't pictured what a day would be like yet, but I know what the issues are.”

        One hot-button issue, the recovery of assets deposited in Switzerland by Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, is almost settled, although there could be some lingering resentments, Ms. Kunin said.

        Mr. Reynolds would not comment on any specific issues and he has no illusions about the job.

        “It sounds a lot more glamorous and exciting than it is,” he said. “It'll be exciting, but I think it's going to be hard work.”

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