Trump nominates his Illinois campaign finance chair as ambassador to Belgium
Ron Gidwitz, a mainstay of Republican politics and Chicago civic life who served as Illinois finance chair of Donald Trumpâs 2016 White House bid, was nominated Friday by the president to serve as U.S. ambassador to Belgium.
Gidwitz, 73, is a co-founder and partner at private equity firm GCG Partners. He was among the few prominent Illinois Republicans who cultivated a close relationship with Trump and his campaign during the tumultuous 2016 Republican primary race.
âI am truly excited, honored and humbled by the whole concept,â Gidwitz said.
He said he was asked to consider the position early in the Trump administration by then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, former head of the National Republican Committee.
âI have never done anything politically that I wanted anything for, other than to help people who needed to be helped. I really never asked for a job. I didnât even ask for this one,â he said.
Gidwitz headed Helene Curtis Industries until it was sold in 1996 to Unilever NV. Gidwitzâs lone bid for public office was an unsuccessful Republican primary bid for governor in 2006, during which he spent more than $5.2 million of his own money.
State records show since 1994, Gidwitz has given $1.3 million to state and local Republican candidates, party organizations and causes, including $55,300 for Gov. Bruce Raunerâs first run â" a campaign he co-chaired.
But his influence has played out on the larger stage of federal campaigns. In 2016 alone, he contributed more than $700,000 to candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, national GOP organizations as well as to Trump and a supportive political action committee, records show. Gidwitz had been an early supporter of Jeb Bush.
It was Gidwitz who helped broker a secret meeting between Trump and wealthy Republican donors at Chicagoâs Trump Tower on the Halloween before the 2016 election. He also met with Priebus during the summer of 2016 near Priebusâ Kenosha, Wis., home to urge that Trump get back on message in taking on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Gidwitz should face little political difficulty in gaining Senate approval. He has fundraised extensively for GOP Senate candidates and has hosted Chicago receptions for many of them.
At the same time, Gidwitz has a history of working with the cityâs Democratic mayors, chairing the cityâs Economic Development Commission under Mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer, as well as chairing the City Colleges of Chicago under Mayor Richard M. Daley. He also is a past chairman of the State Board of Education under then-Gov. George Ryan, a Republican.
G idwitz has made friends across the aisle due to his leading role for three decades in helping the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, where he holds the title of chairman emeritus.
Gidwitz now finds himself in a foreign diplomatic role at a time when questions have been raised about Trumpâs controversial style of foreign policy with allies, and as the European Union faces the withdrawal of Great Britain as a member.
He said he will attend a State Department âambassador schoolâ for a month with special focus on major international issues, while his wife, Christina, will attend a two-week course.
âWhatâs really exciting about it is itâs so different. Itâs going to be something that Iâve never done before. Iâve traveled extensively overseas but never lived overseas. Iâve had volunteer jobs but Iâve never had one quite as serious. There arenât very many quite as serious as this,â Gidwitz said.
Belgium, he said, is âthe center of Europe in terms of whatâs going on. NATOâs there. The EU is there. Belgium has been a great ally of ours for 150 years. And from my standpoint, my French isnât great, but at least I can speak some French.â
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- Donald Trump
- U.S. Senate
- Republican Party
- Reince Priebus
- European Union
- Richard M. Daley