Elections 2006: Greek-Americans Reaching for 'The Dream'

Nine Americans of Greek descent were candidates for major federal and state offices in last Tuesday’s U.S. elections. Six of them won their races while three others lost. The winners are Charlie Crist and Gus Bilirakis in Florida, Olympia Snowe in Maine, John Sarbanes in Maryland, Zack Space in Ohio and Shelley Berkley in Nevada.

The Voice of America produced video profiles for the first five of these successful candidates and aired them as part of an election night special television presentation for affiliate stations in Greece and Cyprus, titled Elections 2006: Greek-Americans Reaching for The Dream. The sixth winner had been profiled in an earlier VOA Greek program.

To learn more about any of the 5 Greek-Americans we featured on election night please go to the table below and click on the headline that includes the name of the candidate of your interest. You will get both his/her video program segment in Greek and an English text adaptation. Or you could skip the tables and just go to the section below them, which contains the entire program text in English with appropriate accompanying photographs. In either case, we hope you will enjoy our Elections 2006 coverage and
e-mail us your views on this type of programming.

Program Transcript:

MR. BISTIS: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Tuesday’s elections in the United States have already become one of the top news stories around the world this Wednesday morning. Everybody wonders what direction America would take and whether our country’s foreign and domestic policies would in any way change after January 2007, when the newly elected Congress will come into session.

As analysts attempt to give answers to these questions we are going to focus on another aspect of the elections, which I believe is of particular interest to you, our listeners and viewers in Greece, Cyprus and the Hellenic Diaspora. We will take a look at the most important races involving candidates of Greek descend. We had an unusually large number of Hellenic-American candidates this year who run for Federal and major State offices across the country, from Florida to Maine and from California to Ohio. We will introduce you to five of them.

Let us start from the South, where Charlie Crist is Florida’s Republican Gubernatorial candidate.


MR. BISTIS: Charlie Crist was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. He already holds one of the State’s top offices. Both he and the Greek-American community are very proud for his service to the Sunshine State.

MR. CHARLIE CRIST: I am humbled by it. To be the Attorney General, which I am right now in the State of Florida, is a very humbling experience. I am the grandson of a Greek immigrant, you are right he was Adam Christodoulou, who came here in 1914 from the island of Cyprus. It is very important I think to always remember your roots and always do what’s right. That’s what my grandfather instilled in all of us.

MR. BISTIS: Charlie Crist’s father is a medical doctor still practicing in St. Petersburg. We visited him at his office. We figured that since the late Adam Christodoulou had raised him, Dr. Charles Crist would more likely be the person most familiar with this fascinating immigrant from the island of Aphrodite and could help us complete the portrait of the man he once called “dad”.

DR. CHARLES CRIST: My father Adam came to the United States about 1915. He was around 14 or 15 years old. He came from Cyprus. He couldn’t speak the language. He had no money. I think he had an English 5 Shilling gold piece. That’s all that he had in his pocket. He arrived in New York City, at Ellis Island and he was told that they were hiring shoeshine boys in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He went to Altoona and worked for Mr. Fotopoulos there. He made five dollars a month.

MR. BISTIS: The first years in the New World were filled with hardships. But Adam’s struggles were not made in vein. They served as an inspiration for the next two generations of his family.

MR. CHARLIE CRIST: Absolutely, he really impressed upon us the importance of hard work and doing what’s right. My grandfather when he first came here shined shoes for a living, which is obviously not a glamorous job but it is good honest work. And he really instilled that in each and every one of his children and his grandchildren and its lived with me till today.

MR. BISTIS: Adam became a U.S. citizen by joining the Army in World War One. After the war he came back to Pennsylvania but not to return to the shoeshine parlor of Mr. Fotopoulos. This time he opened a hat cleaning business and started saving his money in order to help his children get a good education, so that they would someday experience the American dream. By the time the family settled in Florida, his three daughters had started careers in education and his two sons became, the one a pharmacist and the other, a medical doctor. All Greek immigrants in those days were investing in their children’s education.

DR. CHARLES CRIST: If you look now to the second and third generations they are all very successful and they are all very involved in education. Education seems to be a hallmark of all of them. It is very, very important to them. We are all very proud of our heritage.

MR. BISTIS: When Adam came to America he had a sign posted on his chest giving his name and other personal information required by the immigration authorities for he could not say any of that in English. Yet, this underprivileged man shortly afterwards joined the Republican Party, which was not the typical choice of blue color workers of his day. We wondered why.

DR. CHARLES CRIST: I asked him that because most immigrants, not only Greeks but most of the immigrants were in the Democratic Party. And he said, “well I am a businessman and that’s why I want to join the Republican Party”. So, he had that idea right from the very beginning.

MR. BISTIS: For the voters of Florida the question that matters the most right now is why Adam’s grandson, Charlie, is running for Governor of their State. Here are some of the reasons as he articulates them in a pre-election campaign message:

MR. CHARLIE CRIST: I am running to be the people’s Governor. The people would have a choice. Would Florida continue to prosper? Before willing to grade 5 and 6-year-old children we aught to be willing to grade the schools that are supposed to perform for these children. Would Florida continue to be a national leader in educational reform? Or will we go back to the days that have failed us in the past? I want to lower your property taxes and your homeowner’s insurance needs to go down. (Cheers and applause.)

MR. BISTIS: We met the candidate in the city of St. Augustine at the end of last week as he was winding down his election campaign. I asked him: If you had the opportunity to speak today to our viewers in Greece and Cyprus, what would you say to them? He smiled like a kid who had been offered candy and then said:

MR. CHARLIE CRIST: Well, I would say to them if they know anybody in Florida and they see them before Tuesday, please tell them to go vote.


MR. BISTIS: Charlie Crist scored an impressive election victory and he will be the next Governor of Florida, the fourth largest state of America. This is a historic development. No other American of Greek-Cypriot extraction has ever become Governor of any state in our Union. Charlie Crist will be the first. Let us now go north. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine is seeking re-election to another term.


MR. BISTIS: Olympia Snowe was born in a small town of Maine shortly after the end of the World War II. Her father, George Bouchlis had emigrated to the U.S. from the island of Mytilini. Her mother was Georgia Goranitis, whose family had come from Sparta, Greece.

George and Georgia were thrilled that the war in Europe, which had caused so much death and destruction, was over. As the leaders of 50 countries gathered in San Francisco to sign the documents that would establish the United Nations Organization, Olympia’s parents were looking forward to the promise of a new joyful and peaceful era. That era came but unfortunately the two parents did not live long enough to enjoy it and take pride in their young daughter’s upbringing. They died before Olympia reached the age of 10. An uncle and an aunt from her mother’s side of the family, James and Mary Goranitis, helped raise Olympia. James was a barber and Mary was a textile mill worker, in a small town of Maine.

Today, Olympia Snowe is one of the most important figures in the U.S. political life and wants to keep it this way. That is why she reminds her constituents….

SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE: One voice and one vote can make a difference.

CAMPAIGN MESSAGE EXCERPT: If they were more like her Washington would be a different place. An independent voice. Time magazine named her one of the 10 best Senators. A major player on national issues. One of the most effective advocates for her constituents. Olympia Snowe.

MR. BISTIS: Young Olympia Bouchlis grew up in the days that the world was fascinated with America’s Mercury space program, which laid the ground work for the historic mission of sending the first man to the moon and returning him safely to earth. The coming of the space era reinforced on many people’s minds the importance of education for the future wellbeing of their children. Education was particularly important for Olympia, since she had no parents to help her get a good start in life. If she was to make it in this world she had to do it all by herself.

Olympia graduated from St. Basil’s Academy, a school run by the Greek-Orthodox Archdiocese in Garrison, New York, in 1962. A year later, as she was a freshman in college, the nation experienced the trauma of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. She studied political science and shortly after graduating from college, Olympia married Congressman Peter Snowe, who also did not stay for too long in her life. She later remarried with former Governor John McKernan. When Peter Snowe passed away, Olympia filled the Congressional seat vacated by his death, and a few years later she was elected to the U.S. Senate, where she continues to serve.

SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE: There is too much partisan politics in Washington and I am fighting everyday to change that. We need people to work together. That’s what I have done and that’s what I will continue to do.

CAMPAGN MESSAGE EXCERPT: Whether it's been leading the fight to reduce the deficit or to get prescription drug coverage for seniors, whether it's been taking on the establishment to preserve Maine's military facilities or standing up for the rights of women Olympia Snowe is making a difference for Maine and America. U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe. Imagine if there were more like her.

MR. BISTIS: Although Olympia Snowe has climbed so high on the U.S. leadership ladder, she never forgot her roots and is always proud of her heritage. Olympia Snowe is a member of the Holy Trinity Greek-Orthodox Church in Lewiston, Maine and supports the work of Greek-American organizations like AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association), particularly it’s women’s branch, known as “Daughters of Penelope”.


MR. BISTIS: The people of Maine gave an overwhelming vote of confidence to Olympia Snowe and are returning her to Washington for a third 6-year term in the U.S. Senate. Ms. Snowe will be the only Greek-American member of the Senate for at least the next 2 years. Her Democratic colleague, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, is retiring at the end of the year after a distinguished service of 3 decades in the U.S. Senate.

John Sarbanes, the Senator’s son, aspires to follow on his father’s footsteps and is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, attempting to capture one of the Congressional seats in the State of Maryland.


MR. BISTIS: John Sarbanes was born in Baltimore, Maryland, a large port city which is a half hour drive from Washington D.C. Ever since it became the nation’s capital, Washington has been the center of the American political life. It quickly drew the attention of John’s father, Paul, who was destined to become one of the two Maryland's members in the U.S. Senate. He held that position for 30 years.

Senator Paul Sarbanes is the son of a Greek immigrant restaurant entrepreneur and up until his graduation from college he was occasionally working at his dad’s modest business in Salisbury, a town of Maryland near the Atlantic Ocean.

John Sarbanes, is a second generation descendent of that humble immigrant from Greece. Like his father, John got a good education. He graduated from two prestigious universities, Princeton and Harvard. As a teenager, whenever he would visit his dad in Washington, John was impressed by the effect the spirit of ancient Greece had on the city’s architecture. He climbed the steps of success fast and today he is managing one of the nation’s largest law firms. As he runs for Congress John has not forgotten, neither he is likely to ever forget, where he comes from.

MR. JOHN SARBANES: It is a very humbling experience to try to follow in the steps of somebody who had such a tremendous impact not only on this country but also for the Greek-American community. You know, growing up in that household you had a deep understanding of how much it meant to be a Greek-American. This was something taught to me by my grandmother and taught to me by my father. So, all of my siblings and I grew up with this connection to Greece and to the issues that affect Greece and affect Cyprus. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be able to help represent this community and the issues that it holds dear as well as be a very good Congressman for my state.

MR. BISTIS: John Sarbanes wants to bring to the U.S. Congress the values that were instilled in him by his family. These values are the first thing that John mentions in his campaign video message.

MR. JOHN SARBANES: Be honest, treat others with respect and never forget where you come from. Those were the values we were taught growing up and those are the values my wife and I are trying to pass on to our children.

MR. BISTIS: Senator Sarbanes can’t hide his pride for his son, the candidate.

SENATOR PAUL SARBANES: We are trying to keep a Sarbanes in the Congress. We think that would be a good thing.

MR. BISTIS: The Congressional seat for which John Sarbanes is running tonight is in the 3rd District of Maryland. It is the same seat that his father once held, during the era of the Vietnam War. It was from the 3rd District of Maryland that Paul Sarbanes started his distinguished career in the U.S. Congress, first as a member of the House of Representatives and then as a member of the Senate. Father and son also have a lot of other things in common. For example they believe that education is the key that makes the American dream possible and that no matter what profession we choose in our lives we should always strive to be the best in it.

MR. JOHN SARBANES: Opportunity begins with our kids and education unlocks their potential and America’s greatness. I know because education has allowed two generations of my family to achieve the American dream.

MR. BISTIS: John Sarbanes continues to be a member of his childhood church, the Annunciation Greek-Orthodox Cathedral in Baltimore, and is a strong supporter of many Hellenic-American Organizations.


MR. BISTIS: John Sarbanes, as expected, won the election and will be coming to Washington to serve in the U.S. Congress, starting in January. His term in the House will begin on the same day his father’s term in the Senate will end. We spent part of this evening in Baltimore, at the John Sarbanes headquarters, in order that we could now bring you a few highlights from his election victory celebration.


(Supporters of John Sarbanes celebrating)

SENATOR PAUL SARBANES: We are enormously proud of what John has accomplished. I want to thank all those who worked in the campaign. You did an absolutely terrific job.

MR. JOHN SARBANES: I gather the numbers are telling us that we have finally crossed the finish line.


MR. BISTIS: We now return to the American South. Gus Bilirakis is seeking to capture the Congressional seat now held by his father, Michael Bilirakis, in the State of Florida.


MR. BISTIS: Costas, as some of his Greek friends in the Hellenic-American community call Gus Billirakis, was born in Florida. But his roots are from another, also very beautiful place, an Aegean Sea island.

MR. GUS BILIRALIS: My father’s family came from Kalymnos, in the island complex of Dodecanese. My mother’s family also came from Kalymnos, in the Dodecanese. They came to Tarpon Springs and got involved in the sponge harvesting business that flourished here back then. I grew up in Tarpon Spring, where I learned the Greek language. My family and I have been very close to our Greek-Orthodox church and we maintain all Greek customs and traditions at our home.

MR. BISTIS: Nikitas Bilirakis, the great grandfather of Gus, came to America by boat in 1905 just as the country was about to enter the era of air transportation. When he later sent for his family to join him in the New World, Tarpon Springs was a small and quiet fishing village on the Florida’s Gulf side. But the divers that came primarily from the Greek islands of Kalymnos and Syros soon turned it into the capital of the U.S. sponge industry. Tarpon Springs held this title for many years until the development of the synthetic sponge, which ended the reign of the sponge diving vessels and permanently docked them in the harbor.

Both parents of Gus Bilirakis were born in Tarpon Springs. His father, Michael Bilirakis, is a U.S. Congressman, representing this area in Washington for the last 24 years. Since he will be retiring at the end of the year from the House of Representatives, Michael is now helping his son Gus to succeed him in the seat he will vacate. We met Michael in Tarpon Springs.

CONGRESSMAN MICHAEL BILIRAKIS: Gus is a great son. He never gave us any trouble. He is a terrific Greek-American. He speaks the Greek language well. He dances and sings all the Greek songs. He knows a lot of Greek poems. He is a native of this area. He was born in Gainesville, Florida, when I was in Law School there, but he has lived here the rest of his life. He is intelligent. He has served in the State Legislature for eight years, so he is very, very experienced, and I know he feels every bid of strong, if not stronger than I do, about the matters involving Kypro (Cyprus) and Ellada (Greece).

MR. BISTIS: Gus Bilirakis is a candidate that gives a great emphasis on family and moral values. In fact, instead of hiring actors, Gus has utilized his own children to introduce him to the voters. Following is his 30-second TV campaign message featuring the 4 adorable Bilirakis kids.

CAMPAIGN MESSAGE (Bilirakis children alternating): We’d like you to meet our dad. Gus Bilirakis. He is running for Congress. And he gets things done. In the State House he fought to improve education and increase job training. Delivered tax credits to help our seniors and our veterans. And he wrote legislation to ban off shore oil drilling along Florida’s continental shelf. Best of all he is a great dad. And he will be a great Congressman. Your turn, dad.
Gus Bilirakis: I am Gus Bilirakis and I approved this message.
Bilirakis’ youngest son: I hope it doesn’t go to his head.

MR. BISTIS: Gus Bilirakis, like his parents and many other Greek-Americans of second and third generation, seem to have two countries in their heart. One is of course America that they love as their country of birth and the other is Greece, where their families started.

MR. GUS BILIRAKIS: I am looking forward to go to Greece and work closely with the people and the government of Greece. I intend to have several Greek-American young professionals work with me in Washington D.C. Some will probably come from our Greek community here in Tarpon Springs. Things look up right now for my campaign. My race for the U.S. Congress is unquestionably tough, but I am confident that after everything is said and done, we will win the election. I want to go to Washington because there are so many things that I would like to do for the good of America as well as the good of Greece and Cyprus, our beloved Cyprus.


MR. BISTIS: Once again the apple fell under the apple tree. Gus Bilirakis won the election and will succeed his father in the U.S. Congress. Our next stop is again up north. In the State of Ohio Greek-American Zack Space is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.


MR. BISTIS: Zack Space was born in Dover, Ohio, in 1961. Both his grandparents came to the U.S. from the north Aegean island of Ikaria. First came his grandfather who started as a coalminer. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I and then returned to Ikaria to find a bride. He married a local young lady from the Bardos family and shortly afterwards came back to America to do more work and build a home for the family he had started. His son, Soc, short for Socrates, knows the story first hand.

MR. SOC SPACE: My father came to America after the war, worked in the coalmines in West Virginia and then in the field mills of Ohio. He finally settled in Dover, Ohio where, in 1922, he sent for his wife and my older brother, Jim, and they took up residence in Dover.

MR. BISTIS: Zack Space’s acquaintance with his grandparents was relatively brief. However it was long enough to make a lasting impression on him.

MR. ZACK SPACE: I have memories of my yaya and papou who both died when I was fairly young. I was probably 5 or 6 years old by the time they were both gone, but I have very fond memories of them. One thing that stands out on my mind the most is their pure kindness and their genuine concern for the family.

MR. BISTIS: The conditions under which Zacharias Space raised his children were pretty miserable. It was one of the worst economic periods in America’s history. Soc was born at the beginning of that gloomy era.

MR. SOC SPACE: I was born in Dover, Ohio in 1930. I was a child of the Depression. It was very difficult in those days. There was no work for anyone and we had a very poor childhood. But being from a Greek family we recognized the importance of family, faith and hard work. It held us in good state even in those hard days of the Depression.

MR. BISTIS: Like a true son of a Socrates, Zack set a noble goal in his life. To assist people who have not been favored by life or have been neglected by society.

MR. ZACK SPACE: One of the things my father did was grow up very poor. Obviously, he came from a family of immigrants; my papou and yaya came to this country many years ago. But he grew up poor. He grew up with an understanding and a feeling for the needs of the poor. He conveyed that same sense to me throughout my childhood years and even as an adult. I have had the privilege of working with my father, Soc, for about 20 years in the practice of law. Our practice has been oriented toward consumers. We are very proud for the work we have done for many years helping those who are underprivileged, those who are poor and need our help the most.

MR. BISTIS: Zack’s family and Soc’s family continue to live in Dover, Ohio. Life there also continues to unfold at a slower pace than in other parts of the U.S. Zacharias Space had no doubt that this was the best place for his family. And while a lot of things have changed since his days, a lot of other things remain pretty much the same today in Ohio.

MR. SOC SPACE: When I was a young man I asked my dad. I said: “Dad, you were 17-18 years old when you came over here. You left your homeland, you left your language, and you left your family. You never saw them again. Why did you do that?” He looked at me and he said: “For you.” I was touched by that and I never forgot it.

MR. BISTIS: Zack Space is asking the 18th Congressional District of Ohio to give him the chance to represent it in the U.S. House of Representatives. He believes he can do a lot of good in Washington, drawing from the things that he learned from his father and grandfather.

MR. ZACK SPACE: Coming from a Greek family we learned very early the importance of loyalty to family, the importance of personal responsibility and the importance of hard work, those kinds of values that frankly we have seen lacking in Washington D.C. I am optimistic that we would be able to take those values with us to Washington and help make this country a better place.

MR, BISTIS: Zack Space views his run for Congress as a way to give back to his community whatever the community gave to support his immigrant grandparents in the days when the only thing they possessed was the hope for a better future for their children.


MR. BISTIS: Zack Space was victorious. He will come to Washington in January to take the seat he won in the U.S. Congress. The late Zacharias Space, must be smiling from up there today.

There were a few more Greek-American candidates in Tuesday’s elections. Some won, others lost. But all of them run good and clean races, honoring their immigrant grandparents and making the entire Greek-American community proud.

This is George Bistis. Good day from Washington.