New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
On Saturday June 19, a group of prominent Greek Americans, including Phillip Christopher, Nicos Mouyiaris and George Tsounis organized a fundraising event at the residence of Nassia and Peter Papanicolaou, in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, for Democratic Congressman Michael McMahon. Representing the 13th Congressional District of Staten Island and areas of Brooklyn (Bay Ridge Bensonhurst, Gravesend and Dyker Heights), McMahon became in 2009 the first Democratic congressman after 30years of Republican hegemony.
Welcoming the congressman and his guests at his home, Peter Papanicolaou praised McMahon’s perfect record on the issues concerning the Greek American Community.
“His heart is in Cyprus”, Papanicolaou said, mentioning the tough questions raised by the congressman to the Secretary Hillary Clinton during her testimony at the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as the letters he co-signed with other members, on Cyprus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Macedonia and the visa waiver.
He also called on the Greek Americans of Brooklyn and Staten Island to help McMahon to fight the tough race he is having in November.
Philip Christopher said, nothing more interests McMahon than a Cyprus free of Turkish troops.
Christopher pointed out some of issues raised by members of the community, after McMahon voted against the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that despite that, the congressman has a perfect record with our issues.
“He has delivered every promise he made to us”, Christopher added.
McMahon thanked the host and his Greek Americans supporters for their help promising to continue to fight for human rights in Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Greek News has spoken to the Congressman, before the event. The interview was published in Greek on June 14.
Q: Mr. McMahon you are the first democratic congressman in Staten Island and Brooklyn after 30 years. There is a tough election in November for every district and of course the 13th. Could you tell us how this will affect your campaign?
A: You know, I believe that as a democrat that I’m the best candidate to represent our district of Brooklyn and Staten Island in Washington based on what I’ve done over the last year and a half; which is to work with every community in our diverse district to give them the sense that they have a representative in Washington who is fighting for them and is one of them. I’ve grown up and lived in this district my whole life and I’ve worked very hard with everyone in the district to give them the best representation. I am a democrat, but I have not always voted with the democratic majority. I’ve done so and will continue to do so when I think it is right for the district and I won’t do it when I think it is wrong for the district.
I don’t get caught up in party-labels. I am the representative of Staten Island and Brooklyn; I am proud to do that and I will be the best candidate for coming into the fall based on my record of service in both the city council and in Congress for the last year and half.
Q: Greek-Americans play quite a role in your district. Could you tell us a few things about them.
A: They absolutely do and that is something that I honor and respect and that is why the first Caucus that I joined in Congress was the Hellenic Caucus and I am a proud member of that. I fought very hard to get a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and in particular the European, Mideast and Central Asia Sub-committees because diversity in our district and the important work I think I can do through that committee and representing people hear at home, but also working on the issues that effect them from their homeland, from the countries of which they came, and that is especially true for Greek-Americans who make a very large population on both sides of the district and I’m very proud of that fact and continue to work on it.
I believe it is my job to build bridges amongst the different communities as I did in the City Council and I continue to do in Congress. I’ve been a leader on the issue of Cyprus in making sure that we have peace and prosperity and a bi-communal, bi-zonal united and free Cyprus. I’ve been very strong on that.
I’ve worked very hard to have Greece get a visa-waiver status so that those who want to come from Greece to this country can do so like other European countries as well, and I think that’s a very important thing. So, I’ve worked very hard for those Greek-Americans in my district.
Q: Congressman sometimes it’s tough to balance different communities. The American society is diverse; our country is based on some great values and if we all live with them and apply them, we can balance the various ethnicities. Like for example, Greeks and Turks in America.
A: And I believe that so much Apostolos. And first of all let me say that many of the values that we hold near and dear to our hearts in this country come from Greece. The notion of democracy, the notion of individual liberty, the notion of education, these are things that we inherited from Greece and we are very proud of. But you are right, in this country we have to balance different communities who perhaps come from their homelands with longstanding tensions and animosity. And it is true that we have in this district a growing Turkish-American community as well, and I believe it is my job to represent them and certainly to work with them on their local issues and concerns that they have and I think I can work very well to build bridges between those two communities.
I believe it is similar, I also have a growing Muslim community in Bay Ridge and a large Jewish community as well, and I try to balance and represent all. I don’t think anyone should be excluded from having a representative who is working for them.
That being said, there are times that we take a stand and I make my position very clear and I welcome Turkey’s role in the world as a growing and strategic ally of America, but when it comes to an issue like Cyprus I think Turkey is wrong and I will stand on the side of Cypriots on that. But it also does not mean that I will not continue to work with the Turkish-Americans in my district, I think that they are very important as well.
Q: Some members of the community had bitter feelings with your position on the Armenian Resolution, could you clarify your position on that?
A: What I have to be very mindful of is the national security in America and the troops overseas and when the American President calls the members of Congress and says “Look, don’t vote for this, it would jeopardize the security of our troops who are using Turkey as a way to get in and out of Iraq. Turkey is working with us in Afghanistan. I have to honor that and it wasn’t just the democratic president, but the presidents before: George Bush, both the father and the son, took the same position.
I know that the Armenian issue is one that was a very great tragedy. I know people feel very strongly about it. I know that the United Nations has passed a resolution on it. And I think that we in the Congress, as sensitive as we are, cannot do anything to put our troops in arms way and that’s why I decided it the way I did. But I will continue to work with all the communities in my district and do my best, but when something is right or wrong I will stand up and say so, and that is certainly what I think I’ve done on Cyprus in particular.
Q: Final question Congressman, on the recent crisis over the ships with Turkey and Israel, two allies of the United States, bringing great conflict in the State Department, the President himself trying to mediate—What is your position to that and what is the advice you are offering to both our government and Turkey and Israel?
A: Israel is justified in protecting its borders and standing up for security and there have been endless rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel—I believe if the roles were reversed and America took the action that Israel had done—Americans would be clear in their support for that. That being said, I am proud that our administration will continue to work with its two allies, Israel and Turkey, to try and mediate this problem so that we can continue to move forward and bring a peace-process into this area and to work together. But you know, again this is a case where we can have allies with whom we don’t always agree and that’s certainly in this case, Israel was correct—I agree with them—but we have to make sure that we find a way to avoid these problems in the future, but then that’s why we supported the Iron Dome funding for Israel which will help protect it from any attacks in the future. We can’t lose sight of the fact that behind all of this is Iran and Iran’s growing influence and we have to all—Greeks, Turks, Israelis and Americans—all as allies stand up to Iran; otherwise we are going to have much bigger problems in the future.