New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
More than a year prior to Joe Biden’s official announcement, on August 11, 2020, that he chose Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be his Vice Presidential running mate, Senator Harris received the James Williams Award at PSEKA’s 35th Annual Cyprus Conference, in June 2019, in Washington DC,
Dennis Mehiel presented the award, saying that PSEKA washonored by Senator Harris’s presence at the conference, and that she would honor PSEKA by her acceptance of the James Williams Award. “This award is an expression of PSEKA’s esteem for you and what you represent, said Mehiel, a business magnate who has long been active in New York State political life, “Your career and life exemplify the values that we hold dear.”
Senator Harris “would have informed James Williams, and motivated him to go and fight on the side of the Greeks for their independence in 1821,”Mehiel said, “But beyond these shared values, she has exhibited competence, capacity, and passion. And she actually gets things done.”
James Williams, an African American from Baltimore, MD, a freed slave, “went to Greece in 1821 to fight alongside Hellenes in the Greek War of Independence,” Mehiel explained, “He was among the casualties of that fight for Greece’s freedom, and we remember him to this day.”
Senator Harris, the first African American and South Asian American woman to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket, expressed gratitude for the award and spoke general words of praise centered around Greece’s contributions to the world as the mother of the democracy andrepresentative government. She didn’t include anything of note regarding contemporary relations between the two countries and the U.S. in her remarks, however.
“…When I think about the country of Greece as it relates to the days of James Williams, what he did to fight along with the Greek people, and the leadership of Greek Americans in 2019,”Harris said. “I know that there are profound and direct connections between everything we do here in Washington DC and that country of origin, Greece, and all that we did to fight for democracy then, and what we must do to fight for democracy now.”
James Williams, she said, “showed great self-determination against incredible odds. He showed courage. He showed loyalty. Not only to the Greek people but to the cause of freedom and democracy. He made a choice to join the cause and to join the fight and ultimately gave his life in honor of a very important cause… for the freedom of people and for democracy so I’m very honored to receive this award.”
Harris went on to say that she thinks about the award not only in the context of the history of James Williams and the fight for Greece’s freedom, but also in the context of “where we are today, which is, undoubtedly, an inflection point in the history of our country… I do believe this is a moment in time where, individually and collectively, we are being required to look in a mirror and ask the question ‘who are we? … We cannot take a democracy for granted,” said Harris, “which, if true to its design and its purpose, is a system that allows all people to have equal voice and participation.” In her travels around the U.S., “I say to our fellow Americans, ‘our democracy is intact; it is being challenged, as it should be, and it is intact.”
Reflecting on her receipt of the award, Harris said, “… I think that history teaches us that if we are going to be true to the purpose of democracy, we understand that the fight for democracy is a fight that the gains that we make are never permanent, and that we must be vigilant and that this is a fight that is incumbent on each generation to carry the banner…”
Democracy, she said, is like “a tabletop designed to stand on four legs: three independent co-equal branches of government, and, of course, a free and independent press. The beauty of the design is that it presupposes—as has been debated and discussed—that there may be moments in history where any one branch will exert its power in a way that may be an abuse of power, or excessive power… a display of power not only for the purpose of making decisions about what should happen, but that can diminish, can beat down …” she said, “but what I say is that our democracy is still standing, checks and balances are in place, and the debates are still raging.And we are still all finding someplace where we can fight for the integrity of this system.”
Harris spoke about her friendship with Dennis Mehiel. A prominent figure in the Greek American community, business magnate Dennis Mehiel. Principal shareholder and Chairman of U.S. Corrugated Inc., Mr. Mehiel has long been active in New York State political life, and is CEO of the Battery Park City Authority.
Mehiel is a recipient of the Medal of St. Paul, the highest honor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, in recognition of his extraordinary public service. A member of Leadership 100, he is an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle. A member of Friends of St. Nicholas National Shrine, Mehiel was appointed to serve on the Special Investigative Committee of St. Nicholas National Shrine. Among other positions and elected posts, Mehiel was the first person not of the Jewish faith ever elected to the Board of Governors of Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. Mehiel is married to Karen Mehiel. He has seven children.