Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar tapped to be ambassador to Singapore

07/30/2013 2:24 PM

07/30/2013 9:50 PM

A Miami lawyer and Democratic Party fundraiser soon will be off to Singapore as a State Department ambassador, pending Senate confirmation this week.

Kirk Wagar, 44, accepted President Barack Obama’s nomination this month and appeared at a hearing Tuesday afternoon in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which could confirm his ambassadorship Thursday.

“I am a true believer in this country, so this is easily the most humbling experience of my life and I am going to work my butt off,” Wagar said Tuesday.

Wagar has practiced insurance law at his Wagar Law Firm since 1998, after earning a law degree from the University of Miami. A native of Ontario, Canada, and son of a ship-captain father and schoolteacher mother, Wagar became a U.S. citizen in 2004, during a ceremony at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

For more than a decade, Wagar has been a major financial player in Florida and national politics.

He raised money for Janet Reno’s failed 2002 gubernatorial run, and he was the Democratic National Committee’s Florida finance chair during John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Wagar’s contributions included hosting a $500-a-head Kerry party at his then-Coconut Grove home. Wagar now lives in Miami Shores.

“He’s funny, he’s tough, he’s fun, he’s relentless,” Kerry said about Wagar in a 2007 Tampa Bay Times profile. “He’s cocky in the very best way.”

Wagar was Obama’s Florida finance chairman in 2008 and 2012, hauling in more than $1 million for the president in his last election. He was an early Obama supporter, even in 2007 when other top Florida money-raisers had gravitated toward Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Wagar is one of dozens of Obama’s big fundraisers and donors who have landed ambassador nominations in recent months. At least 26 of Obama’s confirmed and nominated ambassadors gave about $13.6 million to the president, the Democratic Party and various congressional candidates, according to Bloomberg.

Obama has “chosen some distinguished Americans to represent our country in foreign capitals,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement to Bloomberg. “None of them was chosen because they supported the president’s campaign, and none of them should have been ruled out just because they did.”

If confirmed as ambassador, Wagar would be entitled to a maximum base salary of $179,700. He would replace David Adelman, the current ambassador to Singapore appointed by Obama in 2009; Adelman is an attorney and former Georgia Democratic state senator.

And Wagar would join the ambassadorial ranks with Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate who served as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush.

Wagar’s international experience includes several years on advisory boards for the Export Import Bank, including its Sub-Saharan African board. He was chief of staff for the National Model United Nations from 1993 to 1994.

Wagar was a guest at a 2009 Obama White House state dinner with fellow Miami lawyer Crystal Connor. It was the event that featured “crashers” Tareq and Michaele Salahi.

“It looked like they were supposed to be there,” Wagar said to the Herald afterward. “I was talking to John Kerry, and (Tareq Salahi) was talking to Chris Dodd, and they were trying to get in front of as many famous people as possible.”

Only when the story broke the next day did it dawn on Wager: “We met those people!’”

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

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