Carol Felsenthal
On politics

With Bruce Heyman, Another Local Obama Bundler Just Got an Ambassadorship

The Goldman Sachs partner and longtime Obama supporter is the latest Chicagoan to land a cushy post from the president.

Bruce Heyman

Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

Bruce Heyman

So word is out, if not officially from the White House, that mega-bundler and Goldman Sachs partner Bruce Heyman, and his wife, Vicki, are off to Ottawa, assuming he makes it through his senate confirmation. True, it’s not London or Paris—those are already occupied, for the time being, by other Chicago bundler ambassadors. But Ottawa is considered to be a lovely posting, and the ambassador does not have to worry much about speaking any language except English.

The Heymans started giving to Obama in 2007, and hosted an Obama fundraiser that year in their Lincoln Park house—back when Hillary was the inevitable candidate and the rookie senator from Illinois looked like the longest of shots. Moving along to 2012, the Heymans both served on Obama’s National Finance Committee and together they collected and contributed $1.7 million to his reelection bid. A report in the Tribune in July 2012 referred to Vicki Heyman as one of the “local workhorses of the campaign… regularly [seen] at Obama headquarters at Prudential Plaza.” The couple is well-embedded in Obamaland. In 2011 they attended the White House state dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  

The Globe and Mail also notes that “Mr. Heyman was… one of the few executives at Goldman’s to support Mr. Obama openly.”

So what else is new?  As I’ve written here before, President Obama,  for all his talk of change, has roughly the same record as his predecessors in dispatching his bundlers to a third or so of America’s 188 embassies around the world. 

These are select embassies; ones that are considered safe (i.e. unlikely to face an attack by the Taliban).

Heyman will replace another Chicagoan, David Jacobson, formerly a partner at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, an Obama fundraiser, and, during the 2008 campaign,  deputy to national finance chair Penny Pritzker. Jacobson went to DC with the President-elect as his special assistant for presidential personnel, charged, in part,  with matching donors with embassies, and Jacobson ended up slipping himself into the Canada slot.

Heyman’s qualifications for Canada? He runs a private wealth management fund for Goldman, and, according to the Toronto Star, “trades in Canada.” His region, writes Mark Kennedy in the Vancouver Sun, is the Midwest and part of Canada.  

Heyman’s appointment is not without merit, given the close commercial ties between Chicago and Canada, and the many Canadian companies that have outposts in Chicago. Kennedy quotes one consultant on Canadian-American relations as saying, “Chicago has [a] strong affinity to Canada…. Many Canadian and U.S. businesses interconnect in the city.”

If Heyman doesn’t know much about oil pipelines, he’d better learn, and quick. A major issue for Obama, as was evident in his west-coast fundraising trip this week, is the Keystone XL pipeline—an project that is anathema to some Obama supporters who count the environment among their top concerns.  On the other hand, its construction could have a major impact on the economy, a matter more pressing in the wake of the terrible employment figures out today. According to the Globe and Mail, Obama is expected to make his decision on the pipeline by September. “The [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper government has made it clear that rejecting the pipeline would send Canada-U.S. relations into a deep freeze…”

In 2009, when I was writing about the current ambassador to the Court of St. James, Louis Susman, I interviewed David Wilkins, George W. Bush’s second-term ambassador to Canada. Wilkins, who grew into a hardworking and effective ambassador, argued that Ottawa is a tough posting: that the U.S. and Canada have “the largest trading relationship the world has ever known,”  and that Canada is “the number one supplier of hard energy to the U.S.”   A former speaker of the South Carolina legislature who ran Bush’s presidential campaigns in the state, Wilkins told me that when he took the appointment he’d been to Canada only once—on a trip to Niagara Falls soon after his marriage. He was never able to learn French, he volunteered,  but did learn “a few phrases, ” such as “Merry Christmas” and “It’s very cold.” He remembered the living situation fondly, a “32-room house overlooking the Ottawa River on a bluff… breathtakingly beautiful; fully staffed with housekeepers.”

For a time, rumor had it that Caroline Kennedy would get Canada, but it now appears that she’ll be going to Japan. Many openings remain—including London and Paris—and many bundlers, surely some Chicagoans, must have their fingers crossed hoping for the call.

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