Kaplan is named envoy to Morocco

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2009 - 11:47 PM

The Minneapolis attorney is the second Minnesotan selected by the president for ambassadorial duties; Kaplan and his wife, Sylvia, DFL heavyweights, ranked among the president's leading campaign fundraisers.

WASHINGTON -- President Obama named Minneapolis attorney Sam Kaplan on Friday as ambassador to Morocco.

Kaplan, a top cash "bundler" for Obama's 2008 campaign finance committee, had been widely vetted by White House officials in recent weeks.

Friday's announcement came as Kaplan and his wife, Sylvia, who is also prominent in DFL politics, were in Washington for diplomatic training.

Kaplan said he is "deeply honored" but prevented from saying more until he is confirmed by the Senate, where he will be formally introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota friend and political ally.

If confirmed, Kaplan would be the administration's second ambassador from Minnesota. Last month, the White House named Miguel Diaz, a Roman Catholic theologian from St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, to serve as his envoy to the Vatican.

Diaz, a 45-year-old adviser to the Obama campaign, would be the first Hispanic to serve as a Vatican diplomat since ties were established in 1984.

Similarly, Kaplan, 72, would break barriers by serving as one of only a few American Jewish diplomats in the Arab world. Friends and associates said he and his wife are looking forward to the post in Rabat, Morocco's capital.

Morocco, a moderate Arab nation and U.S. ally, has a significant Jewish community amid a diverse population. Morocco could also play a key role in U.S. efforts to broker a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a former ambassador to Japan, said the announcement of Kaplan's nomination signifies that the North African kingdom has already signed off. "It has a reputation as a moderate, Islamic, European-oriented country that is willing to work with us," he said. "Sam will be a star there.''

Kaplan's was among eight new foreign postings, including that of Internet media investor Matthew Barzun as ambassador to Sweden. "I am grateful that these fine individuals will serve in my administration, and I am confident that they will well represent our nation abroad and help strengthen our relationships within the international community," Obama said.

Sam and Sylvia Kaplan have long been major financiers and power players in DFL circles in Minnesota, where they helped launch the political career of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone.

They raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the Obama campaign, ranking them among the campaign's top 500 bundlers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (Bundling is the collection of donations from a number of contributors.) They were also among the biggest Minnesota fundraisers for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for president.

Kaplan is a founding member of Kaplan, Strangis and Kaplan, a Minneapolis law firm established in 1978. Clients include TCF Bank, the Minnesota Twins, Polaris Industries and Lupient Automotive Enterprises. He also has served for more than 25 years as general counsel for the Minnesota Wine and Spirits Association.

Kaplan got his law and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota, where he was president of the University of Minnesota Law Review. He served as an adjunct professor of law during the early years following law school graduation. He is often a visiting lecturer at law school classes and speaker at continuing legal education programs.

If confirmed, Kaplan and Diaz would be the first Minnesotans to serve as a U.S. ambassadors since Benson Whitney, who was appointed ambassador to Norway in 2005 by President George W. Bush. He still holds that post.

Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753

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Sam Kaplan