NEW YORK – The Hellenic Lawyers Association (HLA) held its 27th Annual Dinner Dance Gala and scholarship presentation November 13 at the Pierre Hotel.
The ballroom was filled with friends and admirers of Madeline Singas, District Attorney-elect of Nassau County, who received the Distinguished Public Service Award, and Nicholas Karambelas, who was honored as Attorney of the Year.
Being attorneys and having Hellenic roots were not the only things the honorees had in common. During the introductions and thank you speeches tribute was paid to Governor Michael Dukakis as the inspiration for the public service careers of Greek-Americans across the country.
Singas is a veteran of the Dukakis effort in New York State – as were many in the room including New York State Senator Michael Gianaris – and Karambelas was part of the team in Washington, DC that wrote position papers.
It was noted by guests that the honorees and the scholarship recipients are Dukakis’ political children and grandchildren, the rich harvest of the 1988 campaign that transcends its result.
Gianaris and Simotas paid forward the community’s support for them by helping elect Costas Constantinides, the first Greek or Cypriot on the New York City Council.
HLA President Michael Hartofilis invited Fr. John Vlahos to give the invocation, and he followed with an overview of HLA, which he is “is about, supporting, nourishing, and acknowledging the legal careers of Hellenic lawyers.”
Hartofilis’ words were echoed by Kate Christoforatos when she presented the HLA scholarships, adding “I ask all of our seasoned attorney to make yourselves available to our law students and to share with them your invaluable advice and guidance.” She also thanked the benefactors.
The first scholarship, in memory of Judge Norman George was presented by Judge Harriet George to Hofstra Law Student Sophia Arzoumanidis.
George Tsougarakis presented the Hughes, Hubbard and Reed Scholarship to St. John’s Law student Christina Vlahos.
The following three recipients attend New York Law School: Jennifer Kalmanides, received the Poles, Tublin, Stratakis and Gonzales scholarship from John Stratakis, Despina Keegan presented the scholarship she sponsored to John Louros, and Caitlin Dance also earned a scholarship. The final one was presented to St. John’s Law School student Kally Konstantinides.
Karambelas was honored for his achievement in the legal profession and for his work to strengthen U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus and being a champion of the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He began at the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) in Washington, DC as a staffer in the late 1980s and has since served in numerous capacities, including volunteer legal counsel.
He expressed his deep appreciation for the honor because HLA is dedicated “to my two great passions, Hellenism and the law.” He defined the latter, inspired by the achievements of the former, as the use of reason to address, work through, and resolve human conflicts.
Declaring himself a proud Spartan and Greek-American, he praised the accomplishments of the courageous first immigrants. He noted the importance of the societies they created, “and three [seminal] events: the establishment of the Archdiocese, the founding of AHEPA, and the first editions of The National Herald.”
Karambelas said the people in the room are the legacy of those pioneers. “The election of District Attorney Singas” – a burst of applause overpowered his words, but they were to the affect that the former is just one of the brightest examples.
The gala was Singas’ first public appearance after her resounding victory and constituted a celebration of a great individual and community achievement.
Hartoflilis introduced her with the story of seeing her at the start of her career in the courtroom of Judge Richard Butler – who was at the gala. “I tried to explain and show her the ropes, and at one point Judge Butler called me up to the bench and he asked me ‘what do you think about this girl’…and he said ‘you know, I think she’s gonna go far.”
“I feel like I am coming home again when I come into a room like this,” Singas told the guests, and thanked to community for its support and provoked laughter when she said the campaign “has become known as my big, fat Greek election.”
“My story is your story. My parents came from Greece in the 1950s with nothing by the clothes on their backs, and faith in this country, in God, and faith that their daughters” – her sister Dr. Effie Singas was also participating in the celebration – “would one day stand before you in positions like this.”
She distinguished a separate Greek-American path to the American dream characterized not only by a strong work ethic, but also by philotimo, “that commitment to always doing good and being good.”
It is often difficult for immigrants’ children to get career guidance “but thank God for Bill Gianaris…When we were working for Mike Dukakis, he said ‘you should be a prosecutor. I think you would be good at it; and I said, ‘I think I’ll try it.’ Thank you Bill!”
She is happy that today HLA members can play that role for many young people.
At one point Singas paused and noted the night began with joy “and then I heard about what happened in Paris…I know you all will join me praying for those victims and their families, and praying for the rule of law, and hoping that terrorism is eradicated in our lifetime.”
Gianaris, a teenage friend of Singas, told TNH that he was very pleased “we all rallied behind her…and in her first campaign she won bigger than anyone expected. She did us proud and will continue to do so.”
Guests thanked Maria Hartofilis for spearheading another successful gala and they enjoyed dancing to the music of the Syn-Phonia band featuring lead singer Aphrodite Daniels.