RIGA - The United States Embassy is about to undergo a change in leadership, as Ambassador Brian Carlson wraps up the rounds of farewell speeches and Catherine Todd Baily, a major fundraiser for President George W. Bush, prepares to take over.
Carlson told a press conference on Dec. 1 that his tenure in Latvia saw the country's accession to NATO and the European Union. "It would be hard to find a better time to be here," he said.
Carlson is also likely to be remembered for his tough words on endemic corruption and crime in Latvia, pitfalls that, admittedly, the Baltic state has been lethargic in tackling. Under Carlson's term, the United States has been a financial sponsor of several anti-corruption and crime programs.
Local officials have praised the outgoing ambassador for his work in maintaining strong ties with Latvia, particular at a time when anti-American sentiment in Europe is quite high. Atis Leijins, head of the Latvian Foreign Policy Institute, said Carlson's televised interview on Dec. 6 was "excellent."
Questions have already arisen about Carlson's replacement. According to transcripts of the Senate confirmation hearing on Sept. 29, Todd Baily, when asked about integration of Latvia's minorities, replied that the "naturalization of Africans" was on the rise.
Response to the gaffe in the local media was mute, and many contacted by The Baltic Times were reluctant to comment.
Todd Baily, who is from Louisville, Kentucky, was a "Bush ranger" in that state - meaning she raised more than $200,000 for Bush's re-election campaign. Mother Jones, a leftist nonprofit magazine based in the U.S.A., estimates that Baily has raised $543,000 since 1999 for various Republican causes, ranking her in the top 25 fund raisers for either party over the last five years.
It is common practice in many large countries, especially the United States, to give sponsors and trusted friends ambassadorial posts.
"It's a normal practice in America, and it shows that the word is out that Latvia is no longer a problem," Leijins said. He added that the more difficult work is often carried out by an embassy's staff and not the political appointee.
"The president usually tries to send as many political appointees as he can to award donors and supporters," head of the Latvian Institute and former Latvian ambassador to the United States, Ojars Kalnins, said. "It's an indication that the Baltic states are pretty stable."
Todd Baily's husband, Irving Baily II, is also a prominent Republican fundraiser.
During the hearing Todd Baily also said that her father's dream was to become an ambassador, and she would like to fulfill his wish since his life had been cut short by cancer.
"I have worked with Cathy for years and know that she will be an outstanding representative of American values, as well as policies, in her new role," Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement released shortly after the announcement that Todd Baily had been nominated for the post.
Todd Baily is also a philanthropist. She is the founder and president of Operation Open Arms, a charity that aides children whose mothers are in prison.
Carlson will return to the United States to work in Washington. He was America's fourth ambassador to Latvia since independence (the first three being career diplomats).