On Monday, Greek American politician Eleni Kounalakis launched her campaign to become governor of California in 2026. Kounalakis will become the first female governor in Californian history if she succeeds.
When announcing her run for governor on Monday, she outlined her intentions to tackle a myriad of issues facing California, including homelessness, the cost of living crisis, drug abuse, and income inequality.
Kounalakis, a Democrat, has been the lieutenant governor of California since 2019. She also served as the US ambassador to Hungary and spearheaded fundraising efforts to attract donors to the political campaigns of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Eleni Kounalakis stands for governor of California
“The challenges that California has require leaders who are decisive, who have experience and who have a track record of getting things done,” Kounalakis said on Monday.
The Greek American politician was the first major figure to launch her campaign for the governorship formally. Her early entry to the race may put pressure on other potential candidates to launch their campaigns earlier than they would otherwise have intended.
California, which is the most populous state in the US with the largest economy, is one of the most expensive states in which to run a political campaign. Statewide campaigns in California can cost millions each week and it can take months or years to establish a strong political brand. An early start in the race may help Kounalakis to gain an advantage in this competitive state.
“My gratitude for the possibilities our beautiful Golden State has offered and my passion for ensuring every family has the same shot at a brighter future led me to begin my career in public service,” Kounalakis said.
She also spoke of her Greek heritage, saying “I grew up as the daughter of a Greek immigrant and like many other families, we had humble beginnings. My siblings and I were reminded every day how lucky we were to have the opportunity this country offers.”
In an exclusive interview with the Greek Reporter before her election, she had also spoken of her Greek identity.
“As Greek-Americans, the culture that founded democracy in ancient Greece so many thousands of years ago, we know you have to have an invested citizenship, that everybody needs to be able to work hard and earn a piece of the pie,” she stated.
Life and political career
On Monday, Kounalaki was keen to stress her previous experience when making the case for her bid for the governorship, saying “as Lieutenant Governor, I’ve worked hard to make our state work better for all Californians — making college more affordable, fighting against climate change, and championing abortion rights and gender equality.”
After winning the election in November 2018, she became the first female lieutenant governor in California’s history in 2019. Now, Kounalakis is hoping to make history again by clinching the governorship itself.
Her father, Angelo Tsakopoulos is also a big name in the Greek American community. Before becoming a well-known philanthropist and political donor he worked as a field laborer and sold melons on the streets during his youth. He even worked as a waiter in the Governor’s Mansion at one point. All this was before transforming his real estate business into a development empire.
After acquiring his wealth, Tsakopoulos donated substantial funds to Greek American politicians like Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, and Paul Sarbanes. He donated millions to the former California Treasurer Phil Angelides who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006.