Greek-American Navigates the Republican Ship

TAMPA, FL – Reince Priebus, the 40 year-old Greek-American who in 2011 was elected chairman of a Republican National Committee (RNC) that was sinking from debt and disorganization, has sailed a stronger, more confident Republican party into Tampa, FL for its national Convention this week.
Presiding over his first national convention, Priebus has been described at the Weatherman-in-Chief as Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc with the Convention schedule. He has also weathered the media storm – sometimes he endures 20 interviews per day – which included a live confrontation with MSNBC host Chris Matthews on Monday.
Exhibiting a human touch, he declared Id like to take a moment to recognize the hard work of the security personnel, emergency responders and volunteers who are working to keep all convention attendees and all of those in the path of Hurricane Isaac out of harms way.
{51318}Priebus was born on March 18, 1972 in Kenosha, WI where he was raised. His mother Dimitra (Roula) was born in Greece and his father was of German descent. His first name rhymes with “pints” and his last name is pronounced PREE-bus. Reince spent many summers in Greece, learning the language and the other aspects of the country.
Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has come to know Priebus well and is not surprised at his devotion and success. “What I admire the most about Reince is that in addition to being a great American, and proud of it, he does not shy away from his Greek Orthodoxy. Quite the opposite. He takes every opportunity to practice his Orthodox faith and to express it. He sought out [Boston] Metropolitan Methodios at the convention and he is extremely proud of his Greek heritage.”{51299}
Methodios offered a prayer to open the Wednesday night session prior to the much-anticipated speech of Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for Vice President. Methodios has been associated with Romney from the time the latter was governor of Massachusetts.
Romney must be happy with the Greek-American sailing the Republican Party’s ship. Under Priebus’ youthful but steady leadership, the RNC has cut the $23 million debt he inherited in half and restored what were reported as severely strained relationship with major donors. And according to Time magazine “Since April, the Romney campaign and the RNC have conducted a joint fundraising operation that is now raising money at a clip of more than $100 million per month.”
Time notes that “Though he’s not the slickest public spokesman the GOP has known, Priebus has been an effective behind-the-scenes operator and fundraiser. He wins particular credit for turning around a party apparatus that was left in near ruins by his predecessor Michael Steele, who alienated staff members, donors, and party leaders.”{51297}
In addition to getting the RNC’s finances back on track, Priebus’ chief mission has been to keep his party on message and focused on defeating an incumbent president, a daunting task even with a weak economy.
Priebus and the Republicans are basing their case as much on political philosophy as on economic numbers. He leads the charge by saying President Obama believes the key to the country’s success is expanding federal government. “That makes me think that Barack Obama has a problem with the American Dream,” Time quoted him.
THE RISE OF A LEADER
In 2004, Priebus lost his first bid for public office when he sought a seat in the Wisconsin State Senate, but he started gaining national attention when he was “was elected Wisconsin state GOP party chair in 2007, the youngest person ever elected to that position…In 2009, he became general counsel of the RNC under chairman Michael Steele,” according to the Time report.
Priebus was introduced to the Greek-American community in New York in June 2011 after taking over the RNC. During a dinner at the famous Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park, in a room that was filled with other rising stars of the community, he declared “I’m proud to be Greek. It’s a blessing from God to be Greek.” He also emphasized that the community “needs to find more people of their word to run for office.”
He said America is hungry for “authentic, genuine leadership regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans.” He shared the joy he felt as a child listening to his Greek pappou’s stories about great American presidents from both parties and how he was inspired by his grandfather’s love for America.{51320}
Michael Karloutsos, who served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Boathouse event, is at the convention in Tampa. He expressed to TNH that notwithstanding the roles played in American politics by Greek-Americans in the past, it feels different this year with Priebus presiding in Tampa.
“The person with the hammer in his hand is a Greek-American, and an Orthodox Christian, an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. So when I look up at the podium with Reince there, Irakli, there is an incredible source of pride.” Iraklis is his baptismal name.
“He has a ton of supporters in the Greek-America community. They have supported candidates in the past, but because of Preibus’ presence at the RNC, for the first time people are going out and supporting the party itself.”{51319}
Karloutsos believes that will benefit the community and its issues. “Reince’s presence will enlighten us as to how the system works,” complementing the work of people like businessmen and community leaders George Tsunis and Dennis Mehiel on the Democratic side.
Tom Korologos, a longtime prominent Republican on the national scene – he is a convention delegate for Washington, DC – agrees with Karloutsos and adds that it will lead to more Greek-Americans becoming candidates. He also said he has never heard such great praise regarding Priebus’ accomplishments as chairman.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida hosted a dinner in honor of Methodios that was attended by Greek-Americans participating in convention events and local faithful. Fr. Karloutsos was also present as were John and Margo Catsimatidis.
Methodios visited the Priebus family suite at the convention center where he was warmly greeted by his Sally and Roula, his wife and mother, respectively, and his sister Marie Priebus Adamson. New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skellos and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis were also present.
Priebus married Sally, his high school girlfriend whom he met at an Illinois church when he was 18 and she was 16. They ended up going to prom together. They broke up for a time before getting back together and finally marrying in 1999. They have a son Jack, 6, and a baby girl Grace Avalyn, who is almost one.
He is a big Green Bay Packers fan, and enjoys fishing. Priebus will do his best to reel in the big one in November, but at the moment he is totally focused on the task at hand in Tampa. Catsimatidis told TNH, “he’s the boss.” Korologos added “he runs the whole show.” A veteran of many conventions, he said “this has been one of the better run, including RNC cooperation with the candidate,” which he said is very important.