Defeated at Polls, Long Island Greek-Americans Reflect on Race
By Sophia A. Niarchos
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – When Wednesday morning, November 5, dawned, Greek-Americans who ran for public office on Long Island found they hadn’t achieved their goals. Oyster Bay Town Supervisor candidate Alexander Sklavos and Hempstead Town Council candidate George Bassias, both Democrats, and John Iliou, the Republican candidate for a seat on Suffolk’s 14th district in the County Legislature, were defeated by their opponents. GreekNews asked them to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of their campaign, the obstacles they faced and how they worked to overcome them, as well as the effects of such potentially influential external variables as party support, media coverage, and voter turnout.
Sklavos and Iliou, who tried to defeat incumbents, both said that lack of name recognition played a role in their defeat. They used door-to-door campaigns to introduce themselves to as many people as they could. Sklavos (who garnered nearly 20,000 votes to John Venditto’s 35,427) noted that “good organization, a strong volunteer and ethnic base and a superior attitude” were the strengths of his campaign.
“Looking to the Greek community for strong support, I received it in overwhelming fashion,” he said. “I couldn’t have done as well as I did without the Greek community behind me.” Conversely, Sklavos didn’t get the union and third-party support he needed.
“Unions and third parties want to go with the incumbent,” he noted.
Unlike Sklavos, who received the nomination from the Democratic party at a late date and felt “time was really our enemy…and we were constantly working against the clock,” Iliou (who received about 5,800 votes to David Bishop’s more than 7,100) said he had the benefit of getting started early on his campaign, a full-time campaign manager “who worked on the campaign seven days a week,” and successful fundraising that raised $100,000, “substantially more than my opponent.” Despite the loss, he said he had no regrets about the way he ran his campaign.
“I would have done everything exactly the same.”
For Bassias, (who received 6,500 votes to Edward Ambrosino’s 11,000), the challenge he faced was two-headed and had both positive and negative attributes: efficiently run local government (there’s always been a budget surplus) and lack of media attention on what he saw as the dishonesty of the current Republican Town Council.
“The greatest obstacle was the fact that the Town of Hempstead has always had a budget surplus. It is run efficiently,” he said. “To fight it, I had to argue that we need a balance of power in that Republican-controlled government to keep them honest. I emphasized the fact that they were not honest because they raised taxes without informing voters by mail about the hearing date.”
Bassias, who said that he loved the election process and “will be back,” plans to start campaigning earlier and raise more money for mailings, phone calls and a “good television ad where I speak to voters. I feel that with $50,000, I could have run a much more effective campaign.”
Though Sklavos and Iliou were satisfied that media and voter attention were focused on the issues, and not on personal attacks, Bassias thought the dishonesty issue didn’t receive adequate attention.
“The fact that the Town raised taxes without a mailing to voters to apprise them of the date and time of the hearing was, in my opinion, very dishonest. I placed my adversary on the defensive [about this] at the Elmont Civic Association in front of a crowd of 200 people, but the media didn’t cover it.”
Party support and voter turnout also impacted upon the campaigns, though with varying results.
“My party supported me when I needed them and we had enough money to run an effective campaign,” said Iliou. “Sometimes it’s just the wrong year to run.”
Sklavos distinguished the majority position his fellow Democrats hold in the Nassau County Legislature and with Tom Suozzi as County Executive from the reality in Oyster Bay.
“Although the Democrats hold a majority in the legislature, we are still the minority in registration, especially in the Town of Oyster Bay. We were at a great disadvantage in the Town of Oyster Bay,” he said, adding that low voter turn-out also negatively affected the results.
In Suffolk County, voter turn-out was also low, but Iliou could not be sure that this affected the results in a race that found incumbents holding on to their seats and Republicans holding the majority in the legislature.
“The County Executive race played a big role in the results,” he added. “I don’t know that it would have changed the result, but the Democrat Steve Levy did very well here and that definitely didn’t help me.”
Bassias said there was higher voter turn-out by Republicans and their party was more organized than the Democrats.
Asked what advice they would give to anyone considering becoming candidates for public office, Sklavos said it was important to have a well-organized fundraising effort, showing attributes of leadership, and inspiring people.
“I would also recommend setting aside time to be with your family,” he added.
Iliou and Bassias emphasized the importance of perseverance, with Iliou recommending “getting involved as young as possible and working on some other campaigns.”