NEW JERSEY – Zina Spezakis, a New Jersey environmental activist and clean energy executive on November 7 announced her run for Congress, challenging Rep. Bill Pascrell for New Jersey’s ninth Congressional district seat. Endorsed by Brand New Congress, the group that helped propel Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to victory in her insurgent campaign last year, Spezakis spoke with The National Herald about her Greek heritage and her decision to run for political office.
TNH: Where in Greece is the family from?
Zina Spezakis: I’m a Greek mix, as far as I know I’m from Kefallonia (mother), Zakynthos, Chios, Andros, and Crete. But a DNA test also revealed Epirus, Peloponnesian, Western Greece, and some Cyprian. My father’s family were Greeks from Egypt.
TNH: Did you always have an interest in politics?
ZS: I’ve never had an interest in politics. I’m running because, as a mother, I am compelled to act because our politicians lack the urgency and expertise to decisively address the climate crisis. I believe we are at a point in history where ordinary people feel they need to run because our politics have become so corrupted and ineffective.
TNH: How did your family respond to your decision to run for office?
ZS: Both my parents are deceased and I am a single mother by choice. My friends were very supportive and thought it was a great idea because they knew how strongly I felt about protecting our environment for our children. I also have to thank my sister, Marina, who has been super supportive in helping me out with the kids when I have to attend campaign events.
TNH: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing your campaign?
ZS: I have been surprised to learn just how much the NewJersey State Democrats are opposed to me running against an incumbent who they want to protect regardless of how ineffective it is. I’ve been asked to run for school board instead, I’ve been told what I’m doing is impossible. And yet, I am gaining recognition in the district and have gotten a very large endorsement (Brand New Congress). The greatest challenge is raising enough money to make sure that the voters know that they have a real choice in this election. We refuse to take corporate and fossil fuel money because we work for people, not corporations. If a politician takes corporate money, can you really trust them to do what’s in your best interest?
TNH: What is the most important issue you would tackle first once elected to Congress?
ZS: My focus is on the environment and transitioning to an economy that is decarbonized, sustainable, and just for all Americans regardless of who they are or where they came from. There are a number of policies I would start working on immediately to decisively address emissions reductions. For one, I would introduce legislation that ends the billions of dollars of fossil fuels subsidies and tax breaks and start transitioning those workers into clean and sustainable jobs. Instead of paying what by some estimates are between $15-20 billion in subsidies to oil, gas and coal so that they can accrue wealth while polluting our environment, I would redirect that money into the development and deployment of renewable energy, which has some of the fastest growing jobs of any sector of the economy. The climate crisis is an environmental justice issue, where poorer communities disproportionately bear the consequences of pollution and lack of investment in infrastructure. I support the Green New Deal resolution and would work on implementing its policies.
I decided to run after reading the UN’s IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report late last fall. I thought I was doing my part to reduce emissions by being a climate activist and working at a company that developed clean energy technology. But we have less than 12 years to make some really drastic cuts (according to the report by some of the world’s best scientists). And when I looked at my opponent’s voting record and leadership on the topic, I saw that there wasn’t any action. I have had enough of politicians who take corporate and fossil fuel contributions and sit idly by while our children’s futures are being destroyed. They will be long gone by the time our children have to deal with a devastated world that these same politicians created and did nothing to fix.
TNH: How does your Greek heritage inform your life and work?
ZS: I think it’s a combination of Cretan stubbornness, Kefallonian ingenuity, and Spartan courageousness that has gotten me so far so fast in this race. I have read Thucydides and about Alexander the Great’s military strategies to inform my own campaign strategy.
More information about Zina Spezakis and her campaign for Congress is available online: https://www.zinaforcongress.com/