NEW YORK – Chris Zannetos, like many Americans, is distressed by what he is seeing from the government. In a time of upheaval due to COVID-19, Mr. Zannetos has understood that societal and economic changes are in motion that cannot be undone. As such, he felt that the best way to do something about it was to launch his first campaign into the political arena and is seeking to be the democratic nominee to challenge for Massachusetts's 4th Congressional District seat. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who currently holds the position, has decided to challenge a seasoned incumbent, Senator Edward J. Markey, in the Democratic contest for the Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate seat.
Mr. Zannetos has had an atypical route into politics. After graduating from MIT, where he received both his bachelor's and his master's degrees, Zannetos started and ran three successful technology companies which created hundreds of jobs for Massachusetts' residents. An avid believer in the American Dream – because he lived it – Mr. Zannetos decided to enter politics to help ensure that his children didn't inherit a country in which people didn't believe in something he holds so dear.
Although he readily admits that he is not a politician, he believes his experience as a tech entrepreneur will help him drive politics into the 21st century by creating jobs and creating – what has come to be his token phrase – "win-win solutions to tough problems.
Chris Zannetos with family: daughter, Anna (left); wife, Jennifer (center right); son, Andrew (right). (Photo by Beth Shedd Photography)
Mr. Zannetos is an active Cypriot community member and makes it a point to be up to speed on current happenings in Greece, Cyprus, and the Diaspora. Taking valuable time out of his busy schedule which currently consists of cycling through his district and speaking to members of his community (of course while practicing safe social distancing measures), fundraising virtually, hosting online town meetings, and making phone calls to the voters he hopes to one day represent, Zannetos spoke to The National Herald about his stances on various issues that affect our Community and America in general, his background and what he hopes to achieve in his new potential career as a politician.
The National Herald: What do you believe is the single greatest issue facing America currently (apart from COVID-19)?
Chris Zannetos: We have many urgent issues for us to address as a country: how we – in the world's wealthiest society – have tens of millions of citizens without adequate healthcare, climate change which threatens our childrens' future, the trillion-dollar deficit which will grow dramatically as a result of our necessary response to the COVID-19 economic crisis, and more. But I believe that the single most important issue we are facing, which will get much worse as we dig out of this economic disaster, is how we invest to enable our people to access the benefits of the 21st century economy. Our country faced a staggering gap in wealth and opportunity before this crisis, and it will only get worse in the coming months. Prior to the pandemic, we had our best economy in decades, but it benefited only the few – and it left many people behind. Today nearly 50% of Americans don't believe in the American Dream of being able to achieve a better life than the generation before – something so central to the Greek-American community's shared experience. We are living in the age of the technology revolution, yet many of our institutions such as our educational system and our government, have not kept up – and have not prepared our people to succeed in today's world. Only 2% of our representatives in Congress have a technology background. Now more than ever, we need people in Congress who understand the science and technology that drive our world, have experience creating higher paying, more resilient 21st century jobs, and know how to bring people together for win/win solutions instead of posturing for partisan gain.
TNH: Are we doing enough on environmental issues? If not, what would you add?
CZ: We are clearly not doing enough on environmental issues. I've spent my business career focused on helping people and companies understand and prevent the risk of cyber-attacks, and one thing it has taught me is that human beings are inherently optimistic (which is a good thing) and have a hard time assessing risk until something bad has happened. That's why we tend to buy insurance after bad events occur, not before. This is especially dangerous when dealing with an issue that is hard to fix – such as our climate, which is a complex system that takes years to affect for good or for bad. The evidence is clear – no matter what cynical politicians might say – our climate is changing, and this change threatens our people, our homes, our economy. This existential threat is worthy of an Apollo/Moonshot type of investment from our federal government to spur research and innovation in clean energy generation, energy conservation, and environmental remediation. If done right, this investment can not only help us reverse the damage of our changing climate, but also create new, good, resilient jobs.
TNH: How should the United States help to rein in Turkey, which some describe as a destabilizing nation in an already unstable geopolitical 'neighborhood'?
CZ: My father was born in Famagusta, Cyprus – and many of my family lived there at the time Cyprus was illegally invaded by Turkey in 1974. Even though I was just a child living in the United States, when Cyprus was invaded, the invasion and occupation has had a great impact on me. My family in Cyprus was forced to flee their homes, and the closest I can now get to my grandparents' home is by reaching through the barbed wire of the Green Line to touch its walls. I have been so proud to see Cyprus rebuild its economy and community since the invasion, but that success should not distract the United States from re-engaging to drive a just solution to this illegal occupation. This experience has helped mold my belief that the United States’ foreign policy should be driven by political and economic justice, as well as by security and stability concerns. We should take action to deter and contain aggressor nations and just as important, we should be fierce supporters of the democracies such as Greece and Cyprus that espouse and live our democratic ideals.
Advisory Board photo caption: The educators at MassBay and security executives from company partners for the STEMatch program. (Photo: Courtesy of Chris Zannetos)
TNH: What would you say is the issue that is closest to your heart that you want to hit the ground running with if and when you take office?
CZ: As a member of Congress, I would bring my unique experience, skills, and approach to help make the promise of the American Dream a reality for our district's residents. With much needed expertise in job creation, education activism, and tech innovation, and as the only candidate with real-world experience founding and leading technology companies, I have a strong understanding of the demands of the technology-driven economy and have demonstrated a commitment to creative and inclusive educational solutions. Our educational system was built for the industrial revolution, not the technology revolution. It's long past time to make dramatic investments in our system to ensure that our people are prepared to succeed in the 21st century economy – and that all can access this opportunity, regardless of their income level.
TNH: What was it like for you growing up Greek in America?
CZ: My father immigrated to the United States to find an opportunity that at the time was unavailable in his homeland of Cyprus. He stepped off the boat with $100 in his pocket, and a scholarship to a college that went bankrupt after his first semester. With a lot of hard work, risk taking, help from others – and the opportunity given him by the greatest country on earth – he and my mother built a great life for themselves and a head start for me and my siblings. I’ve always believed in the American Dream because like so many other Greeks, my family has lived it. But I know that many in our community face obstacles that make it seem impossible to achieve, and that must change.
Growing up in the Massachusetts’ Greek-American community meant being supported by and supporting others. It meant playing in the Taxiarchae social hall while my father finished board meetings, helping clean tables during church events, frequenting restaurants owned by other Greeks, and visiting the company that my father started with his koumbaros. Our community’s strength was based not only on a common cultural heritage, but on common values and ideals of hard work and responsibility to our community.
Chris Zannetos at an informal Meet & Greet in Brookline, MA. (Photo: Courtesy of Chris Zannetos)
TNH: How has your Greek heritage influenced you?
CZ: My parents taught our family in word and action the meaning of Hellenic citizenship that my father learned growing up in Cyprus – an active dedication, responsibility, and accountability to their community, to work for the common good. I saw it in the work my father, Zenon Zannetos, did on the board of the Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology and the Maliotis Cultural Center in Brookline. And in my mother’s work with the St. Demetrios (Weston) Philoptochos and the Hellenic Women’s Club EOK.
Like my father, I’ve tried to bring the Hellenic spirit of entrepreneurship and citizenship to my life as an adult. I’ve served on the board of administration for St. Demetrios Church in Weston, where I’ve been an active member since I was a teenager. I’ve started and run three successful technology companies, creating hundreds of jobs for Massachusetts’ residents, and have dedicated my professional career to protecting people and companies while they use the Internet. I also founded STEMatchMA, a non-profit that brings companies together with schools to make the opportunities of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education available to all.
TNH: How do you engage with your Greek-American community?
CZ: I’ve been an active member of the greater Boston Greek community for decades, and have tried to honor and continue my father’s commitment to the Church and to the community. I served as an altar boy at St. Demetrios Church in Weston, returning as a parishioner after graduating from MIT. I was married, and my children were baptized at St. Demetrios. I served on the parish’s Board of Administration during the 1990’s and again in the 2000’s during the challenging and exciting time when the parish decided to build a new sanctuary. I served on the Stewardship and Church Services Committees, led the Ways and Means Committee, and have run many parish events. My wife Jennifer is a member of the St. Demetrios Philoptochos, and has served on its Board and Scholarship Committee.