Athanasia Landis knew about politics at an early age during her youth in Greece, a Thessaloniki native whose parents talked it in the house.
And in November, 2015, after 186 years, the upstate New York town of Fredonia voted her its first female Mayor, 23 years after she and her family moved there.
“I feel a lot of responsibility — it’s a big responsibility to be the first female Mayor,” she told the town’s newspaper The Leader then.
“Not because I’m in any kind of competition with anybody else, but my father always said that in our family, women are leaders, and I have this in my mind all the time.”
Landis is a physician married to another doctor, Andrew, a Greek-American from New Jersey whose parents were from Karpathos and who met her while the two were studying medicine. He has a private practice in the town.
With five children, she had to give up active practice and said she was moved into politics by her town’s Democratic party and after she thought it would be a good way to give back to the community she had grown to love – and which she wanted to change.
“My mother’s family had people in government years before in the Venizelos government and my father’s family was much more with unions. Political discussion was an everyday thing since I was born,” she told The National Herald in an interview.
It took some years before she was able to practice what they preached though as she was busy with medicine and then raising a family.
It’s been quite an odyssey and she didn’t plant herself in the United States for good at first. “I went back and forth a few times,” she said. She practiced anesthesiology in Greece and then Internal Medicine in England before she and her husband moved to New Jersey City.
“We decided to move to upstate New York and take things slow, or slower,” she said. It was idyllic but she said that, “during the last several years we experienced an economic downfall that cost the area jobs and prosperity.”
Fredonia – the butt of some jokes over the years after Groucho Marx took the name Freedonia for an imaginary country in the 1933 Marx Brothers comedy classic Duck Soup – is one of those picturesque small American towns – Fredonia calls itself a village – that seem to evoke the perfect place to live, even if, like many, it ran into economic problems.
With a state university and a prime location near Lake Erie, the community of some 11,230 seems to have all the elements of a place to raise a family.
Landis said it needed some help though. “I’m a very optimistic person. I work very hard and I don’t take no for an answer,” she said.
“My platform was economic and downtown development, taking full advantage of the fact that we have a university. My belief is for new business to come was to beautify the village and make it more attractive to people and make it safe and have good schools,” she added.
“My belief in a better future was the main reason I ran for office, as was my family and love of politics,” she added.
She got into politics, despite her parents’ love for it, by accident. “The economy went down in Fredonia in the last 10 years and I started talking to people about some idea and by accident I talked to someone who was head of the Democratic committee and he said, ‘I want you to run for Mayor.’”
She told The Leader: “A few years back I started noticing that things did not look as good as before. Businesses left or closed down and I realized that the younger people were leaving … This is why I’m here. Not to go back — I don’t believe in going back. Tomorrow is always a new day.”
Even in 2016, she said that a woman being elected in a small American town is news. “It should not matter but it does. I was raised by father who never allowed me to think because I was a girl that I couldn’t do what the boys do, like math and science,” she told TNH. “He pushed me into everything and anything.”
Landis, 54, said, “When I was first elected the first question was ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I feel great’ but nothing more. I came to realize not everyone was raised with the same values and by being the first woman (elected Mayor) I’m setting a precedent.”
She said she’s still working on trying to develop a bigger tax base, fixing streets, bring new businesses to Main Street, sustainable energy projects,
The person she replaced, Stephen Keefe, who didn’t run again, said Fredonia has discovered in Landis the ideal person for the job. He told The Leader: “She’ll be the first woman of Greek origin, who was raised in Greece, who has lived here for 23 years … (she has) great ideas and things like that. I knew she was someone who would do an outstanding job,” he said.
Landis was ready from the get-go, just as she’s been all her life. “I don’t believe in discussing things and then forgetting about it,” Landis told her town’s paper. “We’re going to have a calendar, (and) we’re going to get things done.”
She and her family will try to take some time off to visit Greece, which they do as often as possible. She and her husband raised their children to speak Greek and she said, “Being Greek is a big part of who I am and have become, and influences to various degrees my decision making process and my life.”