Former US Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis, daughter of noted Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, took the top spot among 11 candidates in a first round election and advanced to the final contest for California Lt. Governor.
Her opponent will likely be fellow Democrat State Sen. Ed Hernandez, an optometrist, who had 20.8 percent of the vote on June 67 with 99.1 percent of precincts reporting, to her front-running 23.4 percent.
The race is to replace Gavin Newsom and featured big outside spending with the affluent Tsakopoulos paying big to support his daughter, donating more than $4.7 million to a super PAC for her candidacy, media reports said.
Many candidates were political newcomers running for elected office for the first time. The crowded race included four Democrats, four Republicans, one Libertarian and two independent candidates.
The Lieutenant Governor is the President of the State Senate and first in line to succeed the Governor and sit on most state commissions and agencies, as well as the University of California Board of Regents, the California State University Board of Trustees and the California State Lands Commission.
“People look at the lieutenant governor job as a place to land after they’ve termed out of another office or a place to launch from because they want another office,” Democratic candidate Jeff Bleich, who received 9.3 percent of the vote. “But it has a lot of responsibility,” he told the Daily Californian.
Kounalakis was graduated from the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley in 1992 with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. She worked in her family’s housing development firm for 18 years before she was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary by former president Barack Obama.
She campaigned on a platform that included promises to increase affordable housing and provide universal broadband Internet service for all.
Kounalakis also has a focus on making California’s voice known internationally, highlighting the state’s stance on the Paris climate agreement and technological leadership, the paper said.
“From our dedication to fighting climate change, to our leadership in innovation and technology, California has a more important role to play than ever,” Kounalakis’ website read.
“We feel very good about getting through to the top two,” Katie Merrill, a spokeswoman and political consultant for Kounalakis told The Sacramento Bee. “Eleni has been taking nothing for granted.”
Campaign finance filings show that Kounalakis, a Democrat who helped run the family company as well as an Ambassador, donated $4.2 million to her own campaign and that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave her $200,000.
“I’m not surprised, to be honest,” Hernandez said about drug makers donating to Kounalakis. “Big Pharma did this because I’ve been an advocate for lowering drug prices and fighting against their policies.”
“Eleni has been very clear about her position on this. She will not accept Big Pharmaceutical contributions,” Kounalakis campaign spokeswoman Kate Maeder told the San Francisco Chronicle, although technically she may not be able to refuse it. “As Lt. Governor, she will be tough on this industry. Period,” said Maeder.