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|United States Ambassador to Hungary|
|Assumed office |
June 22, 2018
|Preceded by||Colleen Bell|
David Bernard Cornstein
August 17, 1938
New York, New York, U.S.
|Education||Lafayette College (B.A.) |
New York University (MBA)
David B. Cornstein (born August 17, 1938) is an American businessman and diplomat who is currently serving as United States Ambassador to Hungary. He is from New York and his business background is in running gambling operations, high-end used jewelry and telemarketing.
Amid democratic backsliding in Hungary under Victor Orban, Cornstein, in his role as Ambassador to Hungary, has defended the Orban regime. During his tenure, Central European University (CEU), a notable American university in Budapest, was driven out of Hungary by the Orban government; Cornstein blamed George Soros (who founded CEU) and mocked the size of CEU.
Early life and education
Cornstein was born in New York City on August 17, 1938. As the only child of Irwin, who was in the rug business, and Fanny who was a schoolteacher, Cornstein grew up in the city. His maternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary. Cornstein attended P.S. 168 in The Bronx and later changed to Horace Mann School, graduating in 1956. He earned a B.A. from Lafayette College, in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1960, where he is still a donor and part of the university's Marquis Society today. He subsequently earned a M.B.A. from New York University (NYU). Cornstein then served as a cook in the Army Reserve.
Cornstein started his career, while studying at NYU. He opened a jewelry counter at a Long Island's J. C. Penney store and later expanded the operations into a company called Tru-Run, selling jewelry in department stores throughout the U.S. Cornstein served as the president,chief executive officer and a director. The company bought a similar company, Seligman and Latz, in 1985 and the larger Finlay Fine Jewelry for $217 million in 1988. Cornstein formed a new holding, Finlay Enterprises Inc., where be became president and chief executive in December 1988 and continued to be a Director of Finlay Fine Jewelry Corp. The company continued to grow throughout the economic downturn in 1989 and in the 1990s expanded into Europe. In January 1999, Cornstein left Finlay as acting chief executive.
Cornstein spent most of his career in the jewelry business, but contemplated runs for Mayor of New York City in 1985 and 1991, and briefly declared himself a candidate for New York State Comptroller in 2001. Cornstean later dropped out of the race after Republicans leaders were backed the eventual candidate, John Faso.
In September 1999, he was named chairman of TeleHubLink, a telemarketing company that produced wireless encryption products. He had been a director of What A World! since July 1993, before it changed its name to TeleHub. His connection with TeleHubLink proved problematic when, in April 2001, TeleHubLink was accused by Attorney General of New York Eliot Spitzer of violating consumer protection laws through a telemarketing credit card scheme. Despite the controversy, Cornstein contributed to Spitzer's gubernatorial campaign.
Cornstein was previously the chairman of Pinnacle Advisors Ltd., in addition to being CEO, president, and chairman emeritus of Finlay Enterprises.
In 2006, Cornstein was elected chairman of the board of the Jewelers' Security Alliance.
U.S. Ambassador to Hungary
On February 13, 2018, United States President Donald Trump nominated Cornstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Cornstein was a long-time friend of Trump's. He was a member of Trump's golf club in West Palm Beach.
As Ambassador, Cornstein vocally defended the Orban government. According to The Washington Post, Cornstein sought to "charm" rather than shame Viktor Orbán. Under Orbán's premiership, Hungary underwent democratic backsliding, becoming increasingly authoritarian. Cornstein told Hungarian media that he had seen no evidence of this authoritarian shift; according to The Washington Post there was "mounting evidence" of government infringements on human rights in Hungary. The Hungarian government and its defenders gleefully repeated Cornstein's remarks. In a 2019 interview with The Atlantic's Franklin Foer, Cornstein was asked about Orban's own description of his administration as a "illiberal democracy", Cornstein said, "I can tell you, knowing [Trump] for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t."
In September 2018, Cornstein claimed that he had reached an agreement with Orbán that Central European University, a notable American university in Budapest, would be allowed to stay in Hungary. However, in December 2018, Central European University said it had been kicked out of Hungary in what The Washington Post described as a "a dark waypoint in Hungary’s crackdown on civil society and an ominous sign for U.S. institutions operating under autocratic regimes worldwide." During the same week that Central European University was driven out of Hungary, Cornstein described Orbán as a "friend" and criticized George Soros, who founded the university. Cornstein stated that Soros had a crazed hatred of Orban, which led CEU not to make concessions to stay in Hungary. Cornstein mocked the size of Central European University, said that the departure of CEU "doesn't have anything to do with academic freedom", and mused why "this has become such an important subject in the world". Asked by The Atlantic's Franklin Foer if US relations with Hungary would suffer as a result of the CEU ouster, Cornstein answered "not really." When Cornstein gave his answer, his aide asked him to step out of the room; Cornstein told Foer, "I'm in trouble."
- Juice, Fred (March 4, 2018). "U.S. Ambassador to Hungary: Who Is David Cornstein?". AllGov. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
- "The Trump administration tried to save a U.S. university by playing nice with an autocrat. It failed". Washington Post. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
- "Lafayette alum nominated to be US Ambassador to Hungary". The Lafayette. March 9, 2018. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
- "U.S. Ambassador to Hungary". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
- "Company Overview of TeleHubLink Corporation". Bloomberg. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
- Wiggins, Phillip H. (January 31, 1989). "Talking Business with Cornstein of Finlay Enterprises; A Bright Outlook For Retail Jewelry". The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
- "David Cornstein, to be named U.S. ambassador to Hungary, donated to Hungarian PM Orban's D.C. lobbyist". english.atlatszo.hu. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
- "Trump Nominates Businessman David B. Cornstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Hungary".
- Walker, Shaun (May 2, 2019). "Hungary's PM Viktor Orbán to meet Donald Trump at White House". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
- "Trump picks golf club, Mar-a-Lago members as ambassadors". USA TODAY. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
- Foer, Franklin (2019). "Viktor Orbán's War on Intellect". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
- Budryk, Zack (May 9, 2019). "George Conway derides 'sick' comment by US ambassador on Trump and 'illiberal democracy'". TheHill. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
- Witte, Griff (December 3, 2018). "University founded by George Soros says it has been kicked out of Hungary". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
| United States Ambassador to Hungary