The midterm elections in the United States on Tuesday were a good day for Hellenism in America. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, widely seen as an ally of Greece and Cyprus for over two decades, was re-elected to a third term, while the number of Americans of Greek descent in the House of Representatives also increased.
Though not of Greek descent himself, Menendez has for years been one of the US’s most vocal supporters on the issues that concern the Greek world. His interest and sensitivity is the result of personal relations with specific people, but also of his involvement with the issues – from Cyprus and Greek-Turkish relations, to the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
To a large degree, the senator from New Jersey is filling the void left by Paul Sarbanes when he retired after 30 years in the Senate, but also by the retirement of Olympia Snowe, with which they formed a great duo, keeping the channels of communication and influence open with both parties (Sarbanes a Democrat, Snowe a Republican).
In addition, the electoral results in the House of Representatives were very encouraging, as the Greek presence is beginning to resemble that of older times. In the last House, we had four members of the Greek-American community: Gus Bilirakis, John Sarbanes, Dina Titus and Charlie Crist. Two more have now been added: Chris Pappas and Michael Waltz. Four of them are Democrats and two are Republicans.
At the local level, the election of Eleni Kounalakis as lieutenant governor in California, the biggest state in the US and the world’s fifth largest economy, is also important.
The increase in the Greek-American presence in Washington and in local government can also to a certain extent be attributed to the efforts of the community; its leading members, organizations and voters. They all played a bigger or smaller role in their success.
It is well-known that the diaspora has its weaknesses, including the antagonisms that often hinder efforts to achieve goals that should have been held in common. But there will be time to discuss these shortcomings. Today is a day of justifiable satisfaction with the electoral results that are encouraging and which the Greek-American community must build on. Not many countries have the luxury of having so many representatives in the US Congress who trace their roots to them.
It will take a lot of effort but the community could create an environment similar to that of past decades when Michael Dukakis was a candidate for president, when Paul Tsongas fought with Bill Clinton for the democratic nomination, and when Paul Sarbanes and John Brademas were influential figures in the Senate and House respectively.