NEW YORK – The annual celebration of Greek Independence Day hosted by the New York City Council returned its elegant chambers on March 25. Along with tributes to
Hellenic values and contributions to civilization, ten Greek-American leaders were honored for their community service.
One of the most noteworthy things about the evening was the identity of the Emcee: new Council Member Costas Constantinides, the first Greek or Cypriot-American elected to that august body.
“It brings me a lot of pride to stand here before you,” Constantinides said to loud applause. He was reminded of his grandparents, who told him “we want you to be anything you want to be, but you have to work hard,” echoing the words once heard by everyone in the room.
He said “All the honorees share the love of Hellenism, the desire to help their neighbor, a strong work ethic, and fighting for what they believe in.”
Paul Vallone, the latest member of his family to be elected to the City Council, brought warmest regards from his father, former Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, Sr. and his brother, Peter F. Vallone, Jr., who served Astoria for decades and who are proud to have been adopted by the Greek-American Community.
The honorees who were given City Council proclamations included Rev. Paul Palesty, Pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Flushing, who was unable to attend due to an urgent parish matter, PSEKA and Pancyprian Association Founder and President Philip Christopher, President of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York Elias Tsekerides, Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and Cyprus Federation of America General Secretary Despina Axiotakis, caterer and community leader Alice Halkias, Teamsters union leader Demos Demopoulos, Assistant Director of the Queens College Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Effie Lekas, Long Island City HS Principal Vivian Patricia Selenikas, past St. Demetrios Parish Council President (Merrick, NY) Peter Louca, and James Athanasatos, Scoutmaster for 43 years of the Troop of Holy Cross Church.
Athanasatos’ words were representative of the group of honorees: “I never expected this. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn, born to Greek-American parents. They taught be that if your work hard and achieve your goals, that is the way to success in America.”
Those who followed Christopher acknowledge that “he said it all,” regarding their families’ journey to America “My father entered through Ellis Island in 1928,” his pride in his double identity and his pride in his roots in the world’s first democracy and his citizenship in the greatest democracy, and the need for the community to continue to fight for freedom and justice in Cyprus to end the 40 year Turkish occupation.
The guests, who were treated by to a reception catered by Zenon Taverna, Kopiaste Taverna, Ammos Estiatorio and Lefkos Pyrgos prior to the speeches, were entertained by the dance troupe of the Nisyrian Youth Organization. The national anthems were sung by sisters Georgia and Maryanthie Linaris, who also presented the touching song “Ton Gero Tou Morea,” and Fr. George Anastasiou, pastor of the Transfiguration Church in Corona, offered the opening prayer.
Greetings were offered by Michel Spinelis and Nicholas Emiliou, Greece and Cyprus’ ambassadors to the UN, respectively, and Constantinides’ cohosts, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilmen Vincent Gentile, Paul Vallone, Mark Weprin, and Jimmy Van Bremer. Vasilios Philippou, the Consul General of Cyprus, was also present.
New York State Senator Michael Gianaris was represented by Irene Stathatos, and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas could not attend due to budget negotiations in Albany, but they sent greetings through Constantinides.