Alum. nominated to be ambassador

by Katie Gonzalez | 11/19/09 11:00pm

Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis '89 nominated by President Barack Obama to be the ambassador to Hungary last month was praised by Democrats and received little criticism from Republicans during her hour-long Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis could not be reached for comment by press time.

Currently the president of AKT Development, her family's real estate company in Sacramento, Calif., Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis must still be officially approved by the Foreign Relations committee before her confirmation can come to a vote before the full Senate. The vote on whether to send Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis' confirmation to the full Senate will occur during the committee's next business meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, according to committee staffer Tomeika Bowden.

During her opening remarks to the committee on Wednesday, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said she will use her Greek heritage to help her in her role as ambassador.

"Although I was born and raised in California, [my father Angelo Tsakopoulos] ensured that the history of southeast Europe, and its neighbors, was very much a part of my upbringing," Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said in her statement to the committee.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said her professional training will also help her succeed as an ambassador. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis has served as a trustee of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the California State World Trade Commission and the San Francisco War Memorial.

"I have an MBA from [the University of California, Berkeley], and I hope to bring to this position, if confirmed, the benefit of my experiences in the private sector," she said at the hearing.

Both Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have voiced support for Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis. The two women, along with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, gave introductions on Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis' behalf on Wednesday.

Only five of the 19 committee members attended the hearing due to "scheduling conflicts," Bowden said.

Ron Dwyer-Voss, the former president of Natomas Unified School District Board of Trustees, said in an interview with The Dartmouth that he wrote letters to Obama and three committee members Boxer, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. opposing Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis' confirmation.Dwyer-Voss accused Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis' company, AKT Development, of overcharging the school district for land.

"I don't think she can represent the country if she didn't do well by a school board," he said. "That's not a good representative. She's holding millions of dollars of taxpayer money for school children in her pocket."

The Natomas Unified School District has filed suit against AKT Development, alleging it charged the district $13.3 million for land valued at $2 million.

"Nobody asked her why she's holding onto millions of dollars intended for a school," he said. "I don't know if [the hearings were] a love-fest, but it was definitely a lack of due diligence. There were three members of the committee who knew it, but nobody asked the question. It was a less than responsible hearing."

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis and her husband, Markos Kounalakis, have donated $438,880 to various political action committees, candidates and organizations since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Ninety-five percent of these donations were given to Democratic candidates and committees.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis donated $4,600 to Obama and $2,300 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election cycle, according to The Huffington Post.

It is typical for individuals being considered for appointed positions to be significant contributors to political campaigns, according to Dartmouth government professor Benjamin Valentino.

"It certainly is a well-established pattern to appoint supporters one way or another to ambassadorships around the world," he said. "Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, I haven't thought about it."

During her time at Dartmouth, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis majored in English modified with classical studies. She was an arts and leisure editor and an editorials and opinion editor for The Dartmouth, according to The Aegis.