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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

NY pols with Greek roots keep vigil on euro crisis

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) speaks during a news

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) speaks during a news conference on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Clearly Greek-Americans in New York politics are following, with heightened interest, the confrontation between their ancestral nation and its European creditors.

Their political perspectives may vary, but all those contacted Tuesday expressed hope for a deal soon that would avert further financial chaos.

Citizens of Greece voted Sunday by a resounding 61 percent to reject austerity measures proposed by the European Union as a condition for a new bailout. Now a big financial squeeze is underway, with Greek banks running low on cash. Loan defaults are threatened. Suspense builds over what comes next.

Republican Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, who was born in Greece 66 years ago and founded a financial technology company in the 1980s, said that "living for over 40 years beyond its means" led his native nation to this point.

"It is hard to understand why the Greek government is behaving the way it is," he said. "It seems irrational, with no sensible theory applied to it."

The defiant vote on Sunday marked a populist victory for the 6-month-old left-wing government of 40-year-old Prime Minister Alexis Tsirpas -- who called it a "mandate boosting our negotiating strength" but not a move to break economically with Europe.

"I hope there is a deal," Maragos said. "I think it's going to be a painful deal at the end of the day -- but only painful from the Greek perspective. They'd be forced to do the reforms they are resisting." It would be economically "tragic" to be forced out of the eurozone, he said.

Greek-born businessman John Catsimatidis, a major campaign contributor and a New York City GOP mayoral primary candidate in 2013, said in a Fox Business News interview after the vote: "The Europeans are trying to undermine the Greek leadership. Europeans are looking for someone with credibility in Greece and also leadership with the ability to carry the Greek people forward. We don't have that. I think the Europeans will sit down with just about anybody other than the people in charge right now."

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) -- noting he's visited Greece several times and expressing pride in its historic contributions -- said through a spokesman: "It is my sincere hope that Greece will continue to work with their European partners and develop a fair plan to stabilize Greece's economy and further reduce any negative impact to our global markets."

Acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat, said: "With so many family members and friends in Greece, I continue to hope and pray every day for a workable resolution . . . The Greek people are strong and resilient and I'm confident that they'll soon turn the page on this difficult chapter."

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) expressed concern for his own relatives there. While noting that in 15 years as a local elected official he has carefully avoided getting embroiled in Greek politics, he said those in the expatriate community here are unified to the extent they wish to "help the people of Greece get through this."


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