Thursday, March 6, 2003

Bush friend leaving as envoy


Indian Hill's Reynolds serves in Switzerland

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Mercer Reynolds




Mercer Reynolds, the Indian Hill man appointed by President Bush as ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, is resigning effective at the end of March.

Reynolds, 57, said he would return to his business interests, including a downtown investment firm and the Reynolds Plantation resort community in Georgia.

"I think I'm a better person for it," he said of his 18-month tenure during a telephone interview Wednesday. "I have a better understanding of what foreign service and service to your country are all about."

He cited business and personal reasons for his departure. He did not comment on speculation in Europe that he would help in Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

The soft-spoken investor presented his credentials to Swiss officials Sept. 11, 2001, hours before terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He and his business partner, Bill DeWitt, are longtime friends and former partners of the president. They were among the top fund-raisers for his 2000 campaign.

Reynolds announced his decision to embassy staff Friday. The University of North Carolina graduate personally told Secretary of State Colin Powell about his resignation.

He said it was not unusual for ambassadors to serve less than the full three-year term, and he told the Enquirer last spring that he might leave early. Among the factors: high school and college graduations for his daughter and son, respectively, this year.

"I've been going for almost two years, and I think it's just time for me to come back and assume the role I had before," he said.

Reynolds said he had two special memories during his time at the Embassy in Bern. First, accompanying Powell to his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

"It was a fabulous speech, on the theme of, `Can you trust America?' " Reynolds said.

The second vivid memory was the apprehension of "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla last summer. FBI agents boarded a flight from Zurich to Chicago with Padilla, and Reynolds' embassy staff was involved in the investigation, he said.

He said the Sept. 11 attacks increased the intensity of the job, particularly searching for and freezing terrorist assets in Switzerland.

"It's more intense, but it also makes it more exciting," he said.

Reynolds and DeWitt have been two of the Tristate's most successful investors, with stakes in businesses ranging from the St. Louis Cardinals, U.S. Playing Card, Synergistics, Buddy's Carpet & Flooring and the Newport Aquarium.

They also have been longtime friends of Bush, starting in the 1980s with a Texas oil business. The pair's Spectrum 7 Energy Corp. bought Bush's struggling Arbusto Energy concern in 1984.

Later, they were partners with the future president in the Texas Rangers baseball club, a deal that earned Bush millions in profits after he sold his interest.

The pair raised millions of dollars for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and were co-chairmen of his Inaugural Committee.

In August 2001, he was confirmed by the Senate to the post in Switzerland. The job traditionally has been a political plum held by political employees and personal friends of the president.

E-mail cpeale@enquirer.com




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