NEW YORK – “You are not just a Philhellene, you are now a Hellene,” Archbishop Demetrios said to Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York, at a reception the mayor hosted in honor of Greek Independence on April 3 at Gracie Mansion, the official Mayoral residence – or as de Blasio called it “your house – the people’s house.”
An imposing figure standing literally head-and-shoulders above the crowd, de Blasio looked more like a player for the hometown Knicks basketball team, but his presence as the city’s chief executive resounded as he declared New York “the capital of the world.”
Paying homage to Hellenism, de Blasio paid heed to Demetrios’ words and acknowledged that he, indeed, was today “a Hellene,” and recounted that his family is from “Neapolis” (Naples). He spoke fondly of the Greek-American community, that it “makes such an amazing imprint on the life of New York City every day and has for generations…They’ve helped to make it a great city…I have such affection for this community. Part of it is,” he said, due to the years he lived in Astoria. “You basically become Greek after a while, it was an amazing and wonderful experience and because I try to be in my own way a student of history, it is impossible to think about this country, the history of the world, of democracy, without thinking about the contributions of the Greek people.”
He relayed what his teenage son, Dante, a student at Brooklyn Technical High School, told him that morning: “‘Athenian democracy was purer than Roman democracy.’ He didn’t know about this [event] tonight,” he just made the statement based on what he is studying now – he has a great interest in history, de Blasio said about his son.
“I had a wonderful experience” at the Greek Independence Parade, de Blasio said. “The rain stayed away, which shows me the influence of a great man… the archbishop had that worked out.” He congratulated Elias Tsekerides, President of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater new York for “putting on an extraordinary parade every year,” and Tsekerides, in turn, thanked the mayor “for hosting this beautiful event.”
Acknowledging the numerous dignitaries on hand, de Blasio said he was honored to have Demetrios there, as well as “a dear friend and a wise man, Father Alex Karloutsos.”
He also recognized NY State Senator Michael Gianaris, new City Council member Costas Constantinides, Judge Nicholas Garaufis, Miss Greek Independence Sotiria Irene Sotiropoulos, Greek Consul Manos Koubarakis, and Cypriot Consul Vasillios Philippou.
Aphrodite Skeadas, National Philoptochos President, said the event “means that the continuity of the celebration of freedom, of eleftheria in our country, as adopted from the Ancient Greeks. The administration changes, but the ethos and who the Greeks are never changes.”
John Kaiteris, the executive director of the HANAC social service organization told TNH “It’s exciting that it’s the first celebration with Mayor de Blasio.”
Educator Eleftheria Oikouta was very impressed by the mayor’s gesture at the Greek Parade: “when he grabbed the corner of the Greek flag flown at the Acropolis carried by our top Greek school students, instead of going to the reviewing stand, it showed he is a people’s mayor.”
Valia Glytsis, president of Hellenic Professional Women, was very pleased with the event, but she agreed with guests who said it would be good to see more young professionals and such an event. “As with the changing of the mayor, I think it’s also for us as a community to change and show a different face.”
Constantinos Bastas said the gathering “is an opportunity to really celebrate and to be unified. We tend to go our separate way and it’s important on a day like this for us all to be together.”
“Zito I Ellas and kali doulia,” de Blasio said, to the delight of Greeks in the crowd, some of who yelled out their Hellenified version of the mayor’s name: “Blasios!” The mayor chuckled, and then repeated it himself.