The Pelosi Succession Wild Card & More Suns Drama

Eleni Kounalakis
Eleni Kounalakis, California's Lieutenant Governor. Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
October 11, 2022

On Friday morning, I stopped by the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, where Nancy Pelosi had been hosting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s annual Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon and Issues Conference. Hundreds of mostly female donors, fundraisers, and operatives were hanging around the hotel, two blocks from my apartment, so it was a good place to people-watch and catch up with sources who were milling about. Behind closed doors, D.C.C.C. chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and House Majority PAC chief Abby Curran Horrell gave donors an update on the House map; Reps. Barbara Lee and Judy Chu did a panel on abortion; and Reps. Jared Huffman and Mary Peltola did one on climate. Then everyone flooded downstairs for a luncheon with Pelosi, who gifted her guests with a “DOWN WITH NDP” tote, featuring Pelosi’s likeness in a trademark look with shades and a red overcoat. She was mobbed for photos.

Yes, the cult of Pelosi persists, but times are a-changin’ in House leadership, as my Puck partner Tara Palmeri has previously noted. If Democrats lose the House—which, to be sure, is no longer quite the foregone conclusion it was a few months ago—Pelosi is widely expected to resign her seat early next year, triggering the spectacle of a special election in San Francisco, to say nothing of the leadership race in Washington. It’s a great unspoken plot twist looming over the midterms.

I’ve written before that much of the succession conversation in San Francisco political circles centers on Christine Pelosi, a Democratic National Committeewoman and literal Pelosi heir, and Scott Wiener, the city’s tech-friendly, six-foot-seven state senator. But there is one other wild-card name that has been generating some buzz among plugged-in politicos: Eleni Kounalakis, the state’s lieutenant governor. Kounalakis has an elite pedigree of her own—she is the daughter of a real-estate titan in Sacramento, where she worked alongside her father before getting into politics. Over the years she became a significant Democratic bundler, frequently hosting candidates and other contributors at her place in Pacific Heights, a posture that helped her become Barack Obama’s ambassador to Hungary. In 2018, in her first bid for office, she was elected independently to serve as Gavin Newsom’s No. 2.