President Trump Thursday said he will nominate Jamie McCourt, a onetime Boston real estate executive and former co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to be US ambassador to France and Monaco.
If confirmed, McCourt would assume one of the government’s most prominent diplomatic posts, at a time when relations between the two nations are entering uncharted waters under new leaders. Trump had originally nominated her in June to be chief envoy to Belgium, but withdrew that nod and resubmitted McCourt’s name to the more prestigious job.
A businesswoman and lawyer, she was married to Frank McCourt, and together the couple used their vast holdings in Boston’s nascent Seaport District to buy the Dodgers, before their marriage ended in an acrimonious divorce.
The White House cited her business background in its announcement, saying McCourt “possesses a unique global perspective, having lived and worked both domestically and abroad in various industries – sports, law, finance, education, and real estate.”
The Paris posting is viewed as a key post, particularly as Trump imposes changes on US-Europe dynamics. France is long hailed as “America’s oldest ally,” dating to the Revolutionary War, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron is rising on the international scene as a proglobalist counter to Trump’s America first positions.
The France posting “has always been one of the iconic ambassadorships,” dating to Benjamin Franklin’s tenure there, said David Wade, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State John F. Kerry during the Obama administration.
France shares with the United States membership on the United Nations Security Council, the G-7, and the G-20.
“It’s probably taken on outsized importance given the role that Macron and France have played recently on the world stage and, frankly, the larger role that France has played over the last several roles, from climate change to Iran and Syria,” Wade said.
The website of McCourt’s company lists her as a “proud supporter of Israel and the worldwide Jewish community.”
An aide to Jamie McCourt did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
A major donor to Trump’s presidential campaign, McCourt speaks French, has a law degree, diplomas from Georgetown University and the Sorbonne, and a master’s from MIT’s management school.
She and then-husband Frank McCourt were among the earliest promoters in Boston to have the barren Seaport District, where they had acquired 24 acres of parking lots and empty land, turned into a bustling new commercial neighborhood. The couple also sought to purchase the Boston Red Sox in 2001 before the team ultimately was sold to the ownership group led by John Henry, who is also the owner of The Boston Globe.
Several years later the McCourts used their Seaport property as collateral to purchase the Dodgers for $430 million.
But their marriage soured, she was fired from her job as Dodgers president by her then-husband, and their messy, public divorce included allegations that Jamie McCourt had an affair with her driver. McCourt reportedly received $130 million from their settlement in 2011, the same year her former husband filed for bankruptcy protection as Major League Baseball threatened to seize the team over troubled finances.
The Baltimore native remained on the West Coast after the divorce, becoming a business powerhouse in her own right. Her company, Jamie Enterprises, invested in startups, including car-sharing service Zipcar and Kite Pharma, a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company.
“She has tremendous curiosity — which is what makes her such a great partner for entrepreneurs who are trying to do things that are new and interesting,” said Jonathan Seelig, a cofounder of Akamai Technologies who was also an early investor in Zipcar. “Jamie stays hyperrational in high-pressure situations.”
She has also become an advocate for women’s causes, saying her own experience changed her view of how women should approach their own financial standing.
“Not only does [money] represent security, it represents power and it represents control,” McCourt said at an MIT conference last year. “And until we as women truly understand that, and talk about it, many women will remain vulnerable, they’ll be dependent, and they’re going to ultimately fall short of their potential.”
That background as an advocate, said Jamille Bigio, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, could help create “more opportunities for the US and France and to seek women’s empowerment.”
Federal campaign finance records show McCourt donated about $450,000 to Trump Victory last year, as well as other donations to GOP organizations that worked on his behalf. Presidents frequently dole out choice diplomatic assignments to major fund-raisers and contributors.
McCourt would represent the United States in a key European capital at a time when much of the continent is dismayed with the new American leadership, with Paris one of the world’s top staging grounds for diplomacy on a range of issues. The assignment also affords access to a home several doors down from Elysees Palace, and an embassy overlooking the Place de la Concorde.
Karen Firestone, chief executive of Aureus Asset Management, said she has known McCourt for about 30 years, since their sons played youth hockey together.
“She’s there frequently and has a lot of contacts in Paris, and if they were looking for a candidate to fill that slot, Jamie would be a logical choice,” Firestone said Thursday.
Meanwhile her former husband has returned to the sports world after selling the Dodgers for more than $2 billion. Last year he became the owner of Olympique de Marseille, one of the largest soccer clubs in France.Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports.