Eleni Kounalakis, a major Democratic Party donor and former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, on Monday formally jumped into the 2018 race for lieutenant governor, saying she was driven to run by the election of President Donald Trump.
“I believe people need to get in there and fight,” Kounalakis said in an interview. “I believe our system of rule of law, our Democracy, which is responsive to the people who it serves, rests on people being involved. I’ve always known that. My father taught me that.”
Kounalakis, the daughter of the prominent Sacramento developer and Democratic mega-donor Angelo Tsakopoulos and a former real estate developer herself, previously worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“Her losing was a big shock...I had to ask myself now what do I do?” she said. “I was ready to go back into government work and I thought I would be...but the idea that I would go back and work at the State Department was clearly not going to happen. Suddenly this appeared to be the best way that I can serve.”
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State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, and Asif Mahmood, a Democrat and doctor, are also running to succeed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor.
In her campaign announcement Monday, Kounalakis said California has an obligation to fight the Trump administration on health care, education and immigration.
“I will use the lieutenant governor’s office to stand up for California’s working families and as a bully pulpit to stand up to the biggest bully in America – Donald Trump,” she said in her announcement.
Kounalakis, who lives in San Francisco, had an episode of fame last year when hacked emails posted online by Wikileaks showed Kounalakis pitching a coffee shop visit for Hillary Clinton to create a viral moment for her campaign and draw attention to her native Sacramento.
In the interview, she voiced support for Obamacare, making public colleges tuition free, and protecting immigrants, who she called “the backbone of our economy.”
“There’s a mean-spirited quality that the Trump administration has brought to the culture of ICE,” she said. “We need to remind those officers that they took the oath of office to the people of the United States of America and not the president. I’m from an immigrant family...this is our culture, this is what defines us, and we’re going to have to bond together to push back against these threatening voices.”
On tuition-free college, she said “This is the direction that we need to go because our students, our kids – whether they have resources or not – are our greatest resource.”
Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports