NEW YORK – Greek-American Alek Skarlatos, the grandson of a Greek Resistance fighter in WW2, has had experiences in his late 30s that most people don’t have in a lifetime.
In 2014, he served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. In 2015, he became an international hero, sparing, with two of his friends, the western world from another bloody terrorist attack on a train in Paris. He was honored for his selfless act by former U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. In 2018, his adventure was revived on the big screen by the legendary Clint Eastwood, starring Scarlatos himself and his friends, who played themselves, in the movie Departure for Paris (The 15:17 to Paris).
Now, in 2020, the time has come for his next step, this time in politics, with Scarlatos running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 4th District of Oregon.
The well-known Greek-American spoke with The National Herald and talked about the reasons he decided to enter politics, the battle of the presidential elections, how the incident in Paris changed him as a person, and his relationship with Greece and the Greek community.
President Barack Obama poses for a photograph with Oregon National Guardsman, from left, Alek Skarlatos Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, to honor them for heroically subduing a gunman on a passenger train in Paris last month. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The National Herald: Mr. Skarlatos, first of all, how did you decide to run for the 4th Congressional District during these polarized elections?
ALEK SKARLATOS: I decided to run mostly because of our lack of forest management in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District. The biggest problem is that we have the worst economy in Oregon and we had the same person representing us in the last 34 years. If he was going to do something about it, he would have done it by now. And that is also tied to our lack of forest management due to the very specific set of (ONC) laws that govern western Oregon. Unfortunately, our economy and tax dollars for county governments are all directly tied into the timber industry.
TNH: You are considered a hero for all Americans and are admired and respected for what you did back in 2015. After your decision to run for politics, many of them may be unhappy or disappointed. Did you think about that?
AS: Honestly, it didn’t really factor into my decision at all. What really matters to me is what happens to Oregon’s 4th Congressional District. Some people might disagree with me politically but, at the end of the day, I am running for Congress to help the people of Oregon’s 4th and what the rest of the country thinks or doesn’t think about me isn’t my concern.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter awards Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos with the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony at the Pentagon, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
TNH: The Republican Party has not won the 4th District in Oregon since 1972 and the incumbent has been there for years. He can be considered the ‘establishment’. How difficult is it to win under these circumstances?
AS: It’s difficult, but he has made a lot of very bad votes recently. Especially in the last 5 or 6 years, he has gone incredibly far left. It’s unfortunate, because he doesn’t represent the district anymore. Also, as an incumbent having been in the office for so long, he gets a lot of money from PACs and corporations and outside groups, which we, as challengers, unfortunately do not receive. We’ve been doing a very good job raising money from small dollar donors and actual people, but we don’t have any corporate money helping us out, like he does.
TNH: Do you agree with your colleagues who say that the Democratic Party has gone far left?
AS: I think lately they have gone far left, unfortunately. Things like defunding the police are things most Americans do not agree with. And I think whether you are a Democrat or a Republican playing to the extreme of either party is not healthy for our country and I think the Democrats need to come back to reality. I mean, I have a lot of Democrats say that they are voting for me because the Democratic Party has gone too far left even for them. It’s unfortunate, but I think if the Democrats lose this election they might take it as a wakeup call and realize that they need to appeal to all people and honestly not just people on the far left fraction of their party.
Alek Skarlatos, right, was the Grand Marshal of the New York Greek Independence Parade in 2016, shown here with then-President of the Federation of Hellenic Societies Petros Galatoulas. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
TNH: As of today, President Donald Trump appears to be trailing in the polls and Joe Biden is favored to win the elections. Regarding the situation, do you think that Donald Trump can deliver a new upset, just like in 2016?
AS: I think he stands a very good chance of winning, especially with all the things coming out with the Biden’s family’s corruption and things like that. It seems like he’s surging in all the key swing states. I think he’s still a little bit behind, but back in 2016, they had him down still as well. So, I think it is anybody’s guess – but I think he stands a very good chance.
TNH: How did the incident in 2015 change your life?
AS: It changed my life pretty much completely. As you know, we were on vacation after the deployments in Afghanistan. We became international heroes overnight and had to deal with everything that came along with that because of it. We wrote the book, we did the movie with Clint Eastwood. It changed the whole trajectory of my life and I never thought or wanted to get involved in politics either. But when you have the opportunity to effect a positive change for your neighbors, it is something you can’t really pass up.
Alek Skarlatos, left, Anthony Sadler, Dorothy Eskel and her grandson Spencer Stone celebrate following a French Naturalization Ceremony for the three men in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Randall Benton)
TNH: You served in Afghanistan, you know the situation very well. Do you think that whoever is elected on Tuesday should bring the American soldiers back home?
AS: I believe either President should be able to bring soldiers back. President Trump has done a good job of doing that so far, but we still have troops in Afghanistan and I would like to see them come home as well. We’ve been there for too long and we have nothing to show for it. I don’t think that spending 10 or 20 years should make the situation any better for either country involved.
TNH: Tell us about your Greek heritage
AS: My grandfather on my dad’s side was actually a Greek resistance fighter in WW2. He was captured by the Germans and he got sent to Germany to work in a boot factory where he ended up meeting my German grandmother. My father was actually born in Germany and they came to the United States in 1955. We’re still very close to my Greek side of my family. I’ve been back to Greece only once, but our Greek cousins have come here and one of them came and lived with us for six or nine months. We are very close to them. I believe my grandfather was from Thessaloniki or even in the Kavala area and my cousins are currently in Alexandroupoli.
TNH: Are there any Greek-Americans in your District? Have they supported you so far?
AS: There aren’t many Greeks in the 4th Congressional District, but we’ve actually had a little bit of help from other Greeks across the country, especially Congressman Bilirakis from Florida. He is very helpful and is a very kind and nice person as well.
TNH: What is your message to the Greek Community?
AS: We are very excited about this election and we hope that we have everyone’s support. Everybody that comes from Greek heritage has been very kind to me so far and I am very grateful for the support that we have received up until this point.