Paul Sarbanes, one of the most significant Greek-American politicians – and certainly the most effective in terms of influence on US decision-making – has died at the age of 87.
Sarbanes, who maintained contact with many of Greece’s prime ministers, for decades served a two-faceted role that was as sensitive as it was useful: He advised Greek governments on what they should, or should not, do. At the same time, he courageously raised (before the Senate, of which he was a key member, as well as before the president of the time) issues that concerned Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Early on, Sarbanes played a central role in enforcing the US arms embargo on Turkey in the wake of the country’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus.
When speaking with American politicians over the years, I would immediately sense the respect that Sarbanes enjoyed among the leaders and senior members of both parties in Congress and, by extension, the respect they had for his opinions.
A graduate of Princeton, Oxford and Harvard, Sarbanes served as a member of the US House of Representatives before becoming a senator, an office he served for 30 years (1976-2006).
During this long term, he developed a close friendship with President-elect Joe Biden, who served as a senator over the same period.
Together with John Brademas, who rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party in the House and became chief deputy whip, and former governor of Massachusetts and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Dukakis, Sarbanes was one of the three most emblematic political figures of America’s Greek diaspora.
Sarbanes’ comments at the events held by the various diaspora organizations were witty and succinct, but also full of substance. Attendees – who would usually include officials from the White House and the State Department officials whose policies would impact on Greece and Cyprus – would always listen very carefully, often keeping notes.
He chaired the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (he was sponsor of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act) and also served as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, where he carried out substantial legislative work in defense of Greek interests.
The death of Sarbanes, who in 2008 was awarded Greece’s highest honor, the Order of the Phoenix, was announced by his son, US Representative John Sarbanes, who in a statement noted: “My father, Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, passed away peacefully this evening in Baltimore.”