NEW YORK – The auditorium of Long Island City High School (LICHS) was packed with friends, constituents and many of New York’s political heavy hitters who turned out to congratulate and offer best wishes to Costa Constantinides, the first Greek and Cypriot elected to New York’s City Council.
Constantinides was rivaled in the excitement he experienced and the praise he received by his son Niko, who took it all in from his front row seat and later from the lap of his mother, Lori Constantinides. Niko was lauded for his impeccable behavior and was asked to take a bow by none other than United States Senator Charles Schumer, the headliner among the political stars.
Schumer wowed the audience with a passionate tribute to American democracy and the importance of citizen participation and dedicated public servants like Constantinides.
Before being sworn in by Peter F. Vallone, Sr., distinguished both for being a former Speaker of the City Council and for his 29 years of service as Astoria’s City Councilman, the public officials paid tribute to Constantinides for his years of community work and for the excellent campaign executed by his talented young staff.
Those present included New York State Comptroller Thomas di Napoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stinger, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, Public Advocate Tish James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark–Viverito. Mayor Bill di Blasio was unable to attend, but the sent his head of community affairs Marco A. Carrion.
Vivian Selenikas, LICHS principal, welcomed the guests. She also thanked Vallone for helping build the school and his family and Constantinides for fighting for it.
Constantinides was introduced by Gennaro, who echoed the words of many when he said “Costa will make an exemplary and supremely effective City Council Member.”
Before administering the oath of office, Vallone said he was also there on behalf of his son Peter Vallone, Jr. who served Astoria for 12 years before term limits led to the open seat that Constantinides was elected to, and who would have been there but for the virus that had recently laid up so many in the City, including Constantinides.
Vallone added to Schumer’s praise of Democracy and said of Constantinides, “I know in my heart and soul that he is going to do the exact same thing that you expect from every one of us, never to look down, but look you straight in the eyes and say ‘we are one of you, but because of you, we have the power to make a difference.’”
“Thank you, so, so much – it is so humbling to have you all here,” an emotional Constantinides said when he finally addressed the crowd that braved snow and cold. He said, “I want to start off with a few thank yous. First, my beautiful wife Lori, my rock. I could have never made it this far without you. And my beautiful son Nicholas,” who by then was fast asleep in his mother’s arms.
“My story begins with my family, which came from Cyprus. My grandfather was a short order cook and my grandmother was a seamstress.” He continued his paean to the American Dream, which he exemplifies, and to his neighborhood, by declaring “Western Queens is more than its restaurants and parks, it is a confluence of aspirations and hopes for a better future,” for all.
He thanked and praised the Vallone family, and then Gennaro “who was my boss, my friend, my mentor.”
He reserved his warmest tributes for Gianaris and Simotas, whom he noted, along with him, are now being called “The Astoria Three,” and for his campaign team.
“They worked so hard. I may be the name on the door, but each of you are what makes up Team Costa,” he said.
Next he thanked his new constituents, “each and every one of you. It’s your victory, your community, and I promise to work as hard as I can.”
Gennaro was the sure-handed MC for the rich program, which included performances by Youth Dance Division – Pancyprian Association, whose president and founder Philip Christopher was in attendance, and the LICHS Modern Jazz dance group and Chamber Choir. Food and refreshments were offered by the LICHS Culinary Class and Zenon Taverna at the reception that followed the ceremony.
LICHS alum Gianaris brought humor to the occasion when he told Gennaro, who is no longer a sitting City Council member, that he is happy people who used to confuse them will stop calling him James – but added “there is no one I’d rather be confused with.”
Simotas, noted the importance of his election for the community, and called Constantinides “one of those people who does everything from the heart and is so passionate about issues, and he works so hard. All you have to do is call Costa.”
The newly-inaugurated Katz told TNH, “We have a good Greek-American team in Queens and we are excited about Costa and what he brings to the office.”
Asked how Greek-Americans can contribute more to Queens and how they fit into her vision for the borough, she said “They already fit into our vision: running small businesses, supporting our school system and celebrating the culture and traditions they bring from Greece – that is also an important part of this borough,” whose diversity was celebrated by many of the days speakers.
Elias Tsekerides, the President of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, was very proud. He recalled being at an event three years ago and lamenting to Constantinides that the community could not elect a City Council Member.
Constantinides responded: “I will run and I will win,” and Tsekerides told him “I will be there for you.” Constantinides told TNH “He stayed true to his word and the Greek and Cypriot community stayed true to theirs and supported me in a way that I can’t fully thank them for. It’s now my mission to make them proud and everyone proud.”
“I am so happy. It’s a good day for Costa, for Hellenes, for Astoria and for the City. He is an energetic guy and will do a great job,” Tsekerides said.
Theodore Kasapis, who is active in the Queens County Democratic Party, said “It was a wonderful event. It was a pleasure to see such a great turnout on a cold and snowy day, and see so many elected officials come out to honor Costa.”
“I am very proud of Costa,” said Effie Lekas, the Assistant Director of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, of the program’s alumnus. “He is a superb role model for our students. Everything was said by others today, but I believe if he stays authentic, and true to his progressive beliefs…the sky is the limit for Costa.”
Nikos Neocleous said “It’s a beautiful day for all of us, for me also because Costa is a patrioti of mine, from the village of Asgata in Cyprus.”
Timoleon Kokkinos, the principle of afternoon Greek School of St. Demetrios Cathedral, said “It’s a day that honors all Greek-Americans.” He said Constantinides, Gianaris and Simotas “are great examples for our children , whom we want to see progress in all fields, including public service.”