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Say hello to Eleni Kounalakis

Eleni Kounalakis speaks to the Sacramento Press Club in August. (Photo: Associated Press/Steve Yeater)

Eleni Kounalakis bristles at the suggestion that she won the election for California lieutenant governor because of her wealthy father’s support.

It’s true that her father Angelo Tsakopoulos is a very rich land developer. But his mother couldn’t read or write and he spent his early years working in the fields after arriving in this country from Greece.

“My father started as a farm worker,” she said. “The community I grew up in in Sacramento was a hardworking immigrant community. It never occurred to me in my life that I wouldn’t need to work to support myself. I have always been a hard-working person.”

“Hey Dad! Thanks for the help with the millions you gave me! #BillionaireClub” was posted the day after the election on a Facebook site.

The Democrat, who has never before held an elected office, beat fellow Democrat Ed Hernandez, a state senator representing the San Gabriel Valley, in the Nov. 6 election with 56.6 percent of the vote. She garnered 5.4 million votes to Hernandez’s 4.1 million votes. Kounalakis will replace Gavin Newsom, who was just elected governor.

Kounalakis, 52, worked in her father’s business AKT Development for more than 18 years, working her way up from project manner to president.

The support of her father has riled some of her critics.

“Hey Dad! Thanks for the help with the millions you gave me! #BillionaireClub” was posted the day after the election on the Facebook site “True Facts about Eleni Kounalakis,” created by the anonymous group “Californians Who Just Care.”

But Kounalakis credits her win to her decision to visit all 58 of the state’s counties and to listen carefully to residents of all walks of life. “It was an investment at the beginning of the campaign to truly be able to understand the economy and the society that Californians are experiencing in their local communities,” she said.

Her post gives her seats on the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees.

Kounalakis said she does have experience working in government, citing her 2010 appointment by then-President Barack Obama as ambassador to Hungary. She served three-and-a-half years and overseeing an embassy of about 400 people. “I will bring all the tools of running a U.S. government office to the office of lieutenant governor,” she said.

She said she learned a lot during her campaign for lieutenant governor talking to middle-class families still recovering from the economic hit they took a decade ago. “Many middle-class families across the state were not participating in the recovery at all and were trying to dig out of the hole of credit card debt and mortgages that they got themselves into to survive the Great Recession,” she said.

As lieutenant governor, her focus will be on keeping higher education affordable, preserving the environment and promoting the state’s economy.

Her post gives her seats on the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. Higher education resonates with her because her father felt he hit a turning point when he was able to attend Sacramento State University on a waiter’s salary. She earned her masters of business administration degree from UC Berkeley (she earned her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College).

She was particularly motivated to run because she wanted women to be represented in the state’s top offices.

Kounalakis’ role as lieutenant governor also gives her seats on the State Lands Commission, the Ocean Protection Council and the California Emergency Council. She will fill the role of governor when Newsom is not in the state.

Kounalakis decided to run for lieutenant governor because she was looking for open seats and she believed her skills fit the job description. She had originally hoped to work under Hillary Clinton’s administration if Clinton had been elected president. But when Clinton lost, Kounalakis thought it was time to run for office herself.

She was particularly motivated to run because she wanted women to be represented in the state’s top offices.

Her boys had their first experience canvasing in 2008 for Hillary Clinton and helped walked precincts in Nevada for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Even though the California Labor Federation supported her opponent, the group still expects she will be an excellent lieutenant governor, said Steve Smith, the organizations’ communications director.

“We have no qualms about her or her qualifications,” he said. “She shares our priorities on a number of fronts. She is outspoken on equal pay for equal work and is a tremendous advocate for universal health care.”

As a child growing up, Kounalakis was very involved with the Greek Orthodox Church and the local Greek community. She spent a lot of time outdoors with her family, hunting and fishing and going on hiking trips.

Kounalakis is now married to journalist Markos Kounalakis, who reports on foreign affairs for The Miami Herald and has appeared on CBS News and CNN International. The couple live in San Francisco and have two sons, ages 16 and 17.

The boys had their first experience canvasing in 2008 for Hillary Clinton and helped walked precincts in Nevada for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

“They texted tens of thousands of Californians asking voters to support me,” said proud mother Kounalakis, adding “they’re very, very happy that’s all over.”

Kounalakis said she doesn’t know if they’ll want to follow in her footsteps and go into politics.

“I’m sure no matter what they do they will always be involved in their communities. They were raised to value civic involvement the way I was raised to value civic involvement.”

 


  • Homer Simpson

    Do we now have the wealthiest Governor/ Lt Governor combo in the country?

    • daniela rivera

      go back to breitbart and enjoy the BS there w/trump/fasicists/racists/putin lovers comrade!

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