NEW YORK – Whether CNN, Fox, or MSNBC is your political channel of choice, you’re bound to see Nomiki Konst on the air on any given night, providing the latest analysis about this year’s alternatively entertaining and undistinguished, and wholly unpredictable presidential race.
Konst, who is Greek on both sides of her family, graciously accepted our request for an interview, emphasizing how proud she is of her Hellenic heritage.
Her mother’s side is from Northern Epiros, from the villages of Chlomo and Polichani, and her father’s – the family name was originally Konstantakis – from Kefallonia on her pappou’s side. Her paternal yiayia and namesake, Nomiki – who passed away a few months ago – was from Kalymnos.
The story of how her mother’s parents met is particularly interesting, as they did not know each other in Chlomo. Both fled communism in Albania and immigrated to the United States. He, a shoemaker in Maine, she a Chicagoan who went to Maine and walked into his store looking for a pair of shoes for a glendi.
Through all four grandparents, Konst learned a great deal about her heritage – and acquired a lot of family recipes along the way.
FROM GOLDWATER TO SANDERS
Konst was bitten by the political bug at an early age, and politics runs in her family. Her father’s father was Chief of Staff to Republican Congressman John Pillion in the 1960s, in Buffalo, NY, where her family lived – she is originally from Tucson, AZ. He ran part of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. “He owned a building in Buffalo, which had painted on its roof ‘Au H20’ which meant Gold Water,” Konst told TNH, “and was a Goldwater slogan. It was on the airplane flight path, so people could see it when they flew over the building.”
But Konst’s parents, Harry and Kathy, became involved in Democratic politics. Her father is now, like her, a Bernie Sanders supporter. “My mother was a County Legislator in Erie County, NY,” she said, “and eventually a Commissioner of Economic Development. Some of my earliest memories are of tagging along at political events, passing out buttons, licking envelopes, going door-to-door, walking in parades.
A self-described “political geek,” Konst went to political summer camps and at age 16 interned for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (NY). She also worked on Hillary Clinton’s first Senate campaign (in 2000), but has since veered leftward and is now staunchly in favor of Sanders.
As to why she supports Sanders, Konst enjoys elaborating enthusiastically and extensively: “While I used to be a Hillary supporter, I could not ignore what is happening in the party and what people are feeling. I delved deep into Hillary’s record (and her husband’s, which I feel is relevant) and indeed much of what we are fighting now is a result of some of their decisionmaking. Be it her designing welfare reform, his crime bill and prison policy to Glass-Steagall and the incentives he put in place for the mortgage industry, ultimately leading to the housing collapse. And, of course, Hillary’s hawkish record.
“Nothing about Hillary Clinton other than being a woman shows me a leader who reflects the core interests and needs of our party, and the country’s future. Put her up against Bernie, someone who is transparent, runs a rag-tag campaign operation full of people interested in change, not just jobs (as I’ve seen with Hillary folks), and I could not think of anyone else to support.
“Also,” Konst continues, “I don’t like the way Hillary’s campaign has lobbied for Democratic National Committee rule changes to benefit her and how she blocked other legitimate candidates from joining the race (I’m looking at you, Joe Biden – for whom I was vociferously advocating this fall).”
A former moderate, Konst explains that beyond specific candidates, her leftward shift to becoming a progressive stemmed from her realization that the Democrats’ centrist stances haven’t really achieved good results. In contrast, someone like Sanders “is unafraid of taking on the core issues that cause income inequality, racial inequity, gender inequity. He is unafraid to fight for idealism, but is pragmatic enough to understand he has to work with others to get there. In fact, he’s passed more legislation working with Republicans than has any other Democrat.”
KONST FOR CONGRESS
Konst says that her mother likes to tell a story that when she first thought about running for office, she asked then-14-year old Nomiki whether she should do it, to which the teen replied “oh, yes, mom, it’ll be great for my career.” Shortly after that, Konst’s father took her to Bill Clinton’s second Inaugural Ball. “It was the most exciting thing to me as a kid.”
At 28, Konst ran for Congress in Tucson. Had she won, she would have been the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. She didn’t win, and thinks that was partially because of her young age.
Would she run again? She hasn’t rule it out – and now, at 34, is not only a bit more mature chronologically, but with regular appearances on political shows viewed by millions, she has become a nationally-recognizable figure, and that plays a big role in electability.
Though Konst’s main passion is American politics, she pays attention to what’s happening in Greece too, “especially over the summer.” And she has been pleasantly surprised “to see the American public and media turn from almost universally supporting Germany to having compassion for the Greeks, especially as they accepted refugees during the crisis.”
TNH ON PAPPOU’S IPAD
As is the case with so many Greek-Americans, they remember the Herald being part of their household while growing up. “My Pappou, who lives in Arizona, notably has a ‘mancave’ in which he has stacks of Greek newspapers and clippings from the Internet. So yes, I’ve had exposure to TNH through my pappou, mainly. More recently, since he’s learned to use an iPad (which blows my mind, as he never learned how to even use a computer), he likes to pull up articles and email them to me. He even has a Facebook page now!”