Congress

It's a breeze for Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis at Senate confirmation hearing

WASHINGTON � Sacramento real estate developer and philanthropist Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis appears headed for confirmation as the next ambassador to Hungary after winning strong backing Wednesday from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As confirmation hearings go on Capitol Hill, this one was a lovefest. While the committee did not vote after the hour-long hearing, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis faced no hostile questioning and received high praise from Democrats and Republicans alike.

If she's confirmed, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said she would focus on economic and energy issues.

Barring any last-minute surprises, her confirmation would seem to be a certainty, even though only five of the 19 committee members showed up for the hearing.

"I'm honored to appear before you today. ... I appreciate the confidence that President Obama and Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton placed in me for this nomination," Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis told the panel.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, a graduate of Dartmouth College, said her experience in the private sector would help her in her new position and that she would work to increase foreign investment in Hungary. And she said the country needs to diversify its energy sources.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, who was nominated by President Barack Obama last month, had support from the top three members of the California congressional delegation.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, a member of the committee, called her "a powerful communicator" who loves her country and is willing to move across the globe to help it.

"It is not always easy to pack up and move halfway around the world," Boxer said. "You do it for love of country."

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis "has my full and enthusiastic support." She told the committee that Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis had helped develop thousands of homes in California, while showing sensitivity to the environment, when she served as president of AKT Development Corp., one of California's largest land development firms.

"I have no doubt that Eleni will represent our country with distinction and honor," Feinstein said.

Even Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed up with her husband, Paul Pelosi, taking a front-row seat behind Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis. Pelosi, who called herself a friend of Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, lauded her patriotism and commitment.

Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe told the committee that she had known Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis since her college days. She said she had "sterling character."

And New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who presided over the hearing, called Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis "an inspiring civic leader and an active member of the Greek American community."

"New Hampshire also claims Eleni because she went to Dartmouth," Shaheen said.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis attended the hearing with her husband, Markos Kounalakis, who is the president of Washington Monthly, and two sons, along with other family members.

Her father, Angelo Tsakopoulos, who founded the family's development company, said after the hearing that his daughter is "a person who wants to serve."

"If she's confirmed, she'll do a fine job," he said.

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis is one of many Democratic donors who have been received ambassadorships in the Obama administration, continuing a time-honored tradition of many past presidents.

She and her husband have contributed $438,880 to federal candidates, committees and leadership PACs since 1989, with 95 percent of the money going to Democratic candidates and committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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