Senate Committee Approves HBO Exec James Costos for Spanish Ambassadorship

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James Costos

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also approved Los Angeles financier John Emerson and former producer Rufus Gifford, a key Obama fundraiser, for top diplomatic spots. The nominations are now set for a full Senate vote.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday approved and sent to the chamber’s floor three of the ambassador-designates President Barack Obama has nominated from among his leading Hollywood-connected supporters.

The nominations of HBO executive James Costos as ambassador to Spain, longtime California Democratic insider John Emerson as U.S. representative to Germany and one-time producer-turned-mega-fundraiser Rufus Gifford as America’s top diplomat in Denmark. All three of the nominations now go to the full Senate for final confirmation.

The three are part of an unprecedentedly large number of ambassadorial appointments drawn from the ranks of Obama’s biggest Hollywood backers and fundraisers. As prominent openly gay men, Costos and Gifford nominations also reflect, in part, the gay and lesbian community’s increasing importance within the Democratic electoral coalition.

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In a written statement submitted to the Foreign Relations Committee, in fact, Costos cited the role his partner, superstar decorator Michael Smith -- he did the White House family quarters for the Obama’s -- is expected to play in his mission. "My partner, Michael, of fourteen years … will be a great asset to our country," he told the senators. "He is equally committed to representing the very best of American art and culture to Spain, Europe and visitors from all over the world."

Costos, who proudly described his participation in the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s leading gay rights advocacy group, also talked about the relevance of his experience at HBO, where, he testified, "my leadership had to inspire and gain the respect of employees in a large company with over 100 external business relationships in dozens of countries. I managed by empowerment and developed my team to make decisions that allowed them to take ownership of their work if they succeeded or if they failed. In the end, all that we do is for the greater good of the organization and those we serve."

Costos added: "If confirmed, the same will be true of my tenure as ambassador."

Emerson, who speaks fluent German, and Gifford both described long-standing family ties to the countries where they hope to serve.

Emerson noted in his written statement that he and his wife, Kimberly, "share a deep German heritage through my paternal and her maternal grandparents. From my youth, I have had an interest in the culture and the people of Germany -- although I will admit that my decision at age 12 to begin studying the German language may have had more to do with the fact that my father and grandmother would speak it when they didn’t want me to know what they were discussing."

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Gifford recalled that, "through their frequent travel to Denmark, my grandparents fell in love with Copenhagen and the country and would often regale us as children with stories of their experiences. To me, Denmark seemed too good to be true, a land of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales."

Obama on Tuesday added a fourth candidate to the mix of ambassadorial nominees with Hollywood ties. As expected, he submitted Los Angeles political consultant Noah Mamet for Senate consideration to serve as ambassador to Argentina. Mamet, a graduate of UCLA, was an advisor and national finance director for House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt from 1995 to 2003. He moved to Los Angeles in 2004 to establish his consultancy firm, Noah Mamet & Associates.

Meanwhile, Obama is expected to nominate another entertainment-industry candidate, TV producer Colleen Bell, to serve as the US representative to Hungary.