New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Greek American George Demos, a Republican and a former SEC attorney who worked on Madoff Ponzi scheme is now running for New York’s 1st Congressional seat of Eastern Long Island, presently occupied by Rep. Tim Bishop, a Democrat. The grandson of immigrants who sailed past the Statue of Liberty on their journey from Greece to freedom and opportunity, George Demos is committed to protecting our freedoms and expanding our opportunities. George’s mother, a former public school teacher, instilled in him at an early age the importance of education while George’s father Emmanuel, an attorney in private practice and the legal Counsel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, gave him the gift of a strong work ethic and taught by example the importance of giving back to the community.
Greek Americans of New York and elsewhere have expressed their support for George Demos holding fundraising events. During the last quarter of 2009 Demos raised $428,000, while on the first quarter of 2010 he received $125,000 from over 600 total donors.
During the September Republican primary he is expected to face at least three opponents, but he is confident that with his experience he will prevail.
His bio states that he received his BA from Columbia University where he majored in political science and his law degree from Fordham Law School where he served on the Environmental Law Journal. While in law school, George worked at the Riverhead office of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office where he helped ensure dangerous criminals remained off of our streets.
George served as a United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement attorney from 2002 through 2009 where he specialized in prosecuting corporate and white collar fraud. George handled some of the SEC’s most significant investigations including the case against American International Group (AIG) for its phony accounting practices that resulted in the largest fine in history. George also served on the 2009 Bernard Madoff prosecution team responsible for bringing to justice the perpetrators of the largest financial fraud in American history. But most of the time, George worked tirelessly on the cases that never made the headlines; the cases where he sat in the homes of innocent victims who had lost everything and tried to right those wrongs, including on a recent case where a fraudster targeted New York Catholic investors.
A lifelong member of the Shelter Island community, George lives in Brookhaven, New York. He is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton, and volunteers his time in philanthropic activities.
Q: So why did a young professional decide to get involved with politics nowadays?
A: I’ve always been interested in public service and I served for seven years as a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and I had a chance to prosecute a lot of the high profile corporate fraud cases, including the Bernie Madoff prosecution team and the case against A.I.G. Insurance. So, public service is something I always been interested in, always had a strong calling towards and I’ve always wanted to serve in politics and this is the time I wanted to take the next step and serve in elected office.
Q: You are running in a mixed district if I understand, mostly republican,
A: Yes, it’s a 3 to 2 Republican, so it’s traditionally a Republican District, but there’s Democratic Congressman who got in there and this is a year when it’s looking very good for Republicans—people are tired of the spending, the taxes, the government take-over of healthcare and people are looking to go back to conservative roots of less spending, lowering taxes and getting back to the things that made this country great. As grand-son of Greek immigrants, I know that my grandparents came here for opportunity and freedom and they didn’t come here for a handout and they came here to work hard and that’s exactly what the American people are looking for, someone who is going to make sure that business will flourish, have opportunity and not be strangled by government regulation and red tape that’s really crippling our businesses and hurting our economy. People want jobs and were not going to bring back more jobs to our country by increasing taxes.
Q: Having been a federal prosecutor against corporate cases, I understand that you have an idea that the lack of regulation can create a worse problem right?
A: No, I wouldn’t agree with that. I think it’s a question of making sure that we enforce the laws we have on the books against people who are truly committing crimes and committing frauds and not burdening the businesses that are actually doing the right thing. Too much of our time is spent trying to hinder the folks who are actually doing the right thing every day, employing people and trying to create businesses and grow the economy. We need to focus on the people who are actually committing the frauds, people like Bernie Madoff, people who are actually the real bad fraudsters. So, it is not a question of more regulation, it’s a question of being smart—going after the people who are doing the wrong things and we don’t need any more laws, we have enough laws on the books.
Q: Are you facing a primary, how are things on the Republican side?
A: The fact that the district is very winnable and the incumbent Democrat is very weak means that we have attracted a lot of candidates and that’s a good thing. There are a couple of folks in the primary, it looks very good for us and we’re optimistic in our chances there. It’s a district that’s definitely winnable and I have a great political team behind me and it’s looking good for us.
Q: How is the Levi factor going to play-out, I guess there is a lot of enthusiasm in the Republicans of Suffolk County with the decision of Mr. Levi to run for Governor. How will that play-out?
A: Well, I’m going to stay out of that trail race and focus on my Congressional one for now. I’ve always been a Republican and I welcome Mr. Levi to the Republican party, but it’s not my job to choose people running for Governor. I have to focus on who’s running for Congress. I will say though that it’s a good thing people are leaving the Democratic party and joining the Republican party, so that’s always a positive sign, but the Republican’s need to remember that when they were in power they made mistakes too and they went along with a lot of the spending and they went along with a lot of the things that got us in trouble and there was a lot of corruption—and we need to stop that too—so if the people are gracious enough to get the Republicans back in power, they need to remember why they were sent there, not do what they did last time.
Q: How will the Tea Party factor play out in a prosperous district like yours in Eastern Long Island and in the country in general in the November election?
A: Our district was the very first one that had a health care protest last June, June 22, and it was the first Tea Party protest against the health care system. So, the Tea Party movement in Long Island is very strong and I have very great support amongst the Tea Party folks and they are looking for someone who’s going to say what they mean and mean what they say and stand up and fight the corruption. We can’t have these backroom deals and we can’t have a system where the elite get to decide who gets to be the Republican nominee—it’s going to be the people and they are looking for someone who is going to follow through and who believes in the core conservative principles. We can’t have the same kinds of Republicans who say one thing and do another thing. We have to get back to people who say what they mean and mean what they say.
FIRST GREEK AMERICAN CONGRESSMAN FROM NY
Q: Greek-Americans have done well enough in politics I would say, I mean if you take the percentages we have right now in Congress, it’s much better off than the percentages we have in the general population in the country. Who were your role models in this over the years?
A: Well, I’d say first that New York has actually never had a Greek Congressman and it’s time we change that and we change that by electing me to the U.S. Congress and hopefully we get more people involved. We have people like Gus Bilirakis, who are helping me tremendously, in Florida we’ve have other Congressmen—all over the country and it’s important that we get Greek-Americans in Congress who can articulate and advocate on behalf of the issues important to the Greek community. I have a lot of role models in politics and people like Ronald Regan, people who genuinely connected with. In terms of the Greek community we haven’t had anyone in terms of the national level in politics on the Republican side, obviously I respect a lot of the folks on the other side of the aisle and I look forward to working with them. Gus Bilirakis has been a great help to me, but I want to get into Congress so we can help expand our community’s influence as well. It’s not enough anymore to have a Greek-American who’s going to go there and say “I’m a Greek-American” and that’s the end of the story.
We need someone who can be intelligent and advocate on behalf of our issues—advocate for the Cypriot issue, advocate for the Macedonian issue, advocate for the Ecumenical Patriarchate—you can’t simply go there and talk about it, you have to influence your colleagues, you have to educate them—most of them don’t know about our issues—and so I want to go there and get something done. It’s not enough to have someone simply go there and say “I’m Greek” and that’s the end of the story.
Q: The Republicans and actually the previous president–although his friendly approach with our community–he was not so friendly with the Greek issues.
A: Again, that’s an issue of education and making sure that we have our own there who can inform them about the issues and really push them and make personal relationships. Real change is not going to happen on our issues by standing up and making a speech—it’s going to happen by convincing people of the moral imperative of our cause, convincing people that the birthplace of democracy in the entire world is a place that deserves the recognition and the respect of the United States and that’s something I’ll carry with me every day in Congress.
Q: You come from a family involved with the Church, involved with the Greek community etc…you know very well about the Greek issues, but just tell me a few things about Cyprus and Macedonia, etc..
A: The issue of Cyprus is something we have to fight for. The illegal occupation by Turkey of another European Union member-nation is unfathomable, it’s unconscionable and it’s not something that can stand—we need to find a solution and find it now. The fact that any European-Union member country is occupied by another country, and we allow this to stand and we don’t push for a solution, an immediate solution—to push for a withdrawal of the illegal occupation of Turkish troops from Cyprus is an abomination. We need to push on that and push strongly. We need to resolve the issues of Macedonia and find a name that’s acceptable. Macedonia is a Greek name, it refers to the culture, it refers to the Greek history and we cannot stand by, the United States cannot be an advocate of having that name given to another country. With respect to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, it’s an issue of moral and religious freedom around the world that transcends Greek-Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy at large. It’s the spiritual center of 250 to 300 million Orthodox Christians and all we’re asking for is religious freedom and that’s something that should be a prerequisite to Turkey’s admission into the European Union. We have to stop the abuse and the harassment of the Patriarch that happens everyday in his headquarters; we have to re-open the seminary in Halki. These are things we have to push and advocate, not as Greek issues with respect to the Patriarchate, but as international human rights issues. You need to forge coalitions in the Congress with other members interested in religious freedom and push the issue in a way that emphasized the moral imperative of the cause. If we do those things, I’m confident that I can make progress along with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on pushing these issues and advocating on behalf of the issues important to this community.
Q: You are following, I guess like everybody in the world the financial situation in Greece because it effects everything even the United States even the NY Stock Exchange. What do you think about it?
A: I think the issue is one of unsustainable spending and higher taxes and it’s an issue that countries can’t ignore anymore and we’re facing the same issues in the United States if we don’t turn our financial house and turn it in order. You cannot spend more then you have. You can’t tax people to such an extent that it inhibits economic growth and all these issues are coming back to play now and the Greek government needs to find a way to get on market-based policies that will actually grow the economy and cut the spending. It’s unsustainable to have the entire population or large segments of the population depending on the government.
It can’t happen, it never happened in the history of the world, and I’m confident that Greece will turn it around. It’s a matter of tough medicine now and making those choices of cutting that spending and creating a business environment that’s friendly and that’s what we have to do here in the United States. What happened in Greece is a warning shot to politicians here in the United States that that will happen here too if we don’t turn around the problems we are having here.
Q: Many young Greek-Americans are looking for role-models like you. What is the message you send my running?
A: The message is that Greek-Americans should be involved in politics on all sides of the aisles—a non-partisan statement. We have a lot to offer our country and we should continue. We’ve been successful in medicine, in law, in all segments of our society, but I think we need to take that next step and be leaders in our political system as well. We’ve had some great successes, but we need to have more, and I encourage all young Greek-Americans to be active in politics and to pursue public service–it does not have to be elective office, I served for seven years as a prosecutor at the SEC and that was public service I was proud of and I think more Greek-Americans should continue to do that and continue to seek elective office.
I’m confident that we’ll win, we have a successful team behind me—it’s run by a gentleman named Arthur Finkelstein who was Governor Pataki’s top strategist and Rob Cole who was his right hand guy and also Jake Mangis. These are people that actually ran Scott Brown’s race in Massachusetts. It’s a great team and these are people who wouldn’t take a race unless they thought they can win it and the fact that they’re on board with our team I am confident it shows that we have tremendous success.
Our success goes way beyond the Greek community; we’ve had top fundraisers including Kim Rangone, including Peter Calico and Charles Gargano, a lot of the top finance folks in NY. We are confident that we have the political team in place and the finances and I need the help of everyone involved interested in politics to continue and I’m confident of success.