NEW YORK – Rhode Island State Senator Leonidas Raptakis (Democrat – District 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) is running for re-election this year. He visited the offices of The National Herald on September 24 to discuss the issues facing the Greek community, the many Greek-Americans running for office, and the importance of supporting their campaigns.
A long-time member of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association, Raptakis has worked on a range of Rhode Island legislation policy issues impacting not only Greece and Cyprus, but many European nations. He attended the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) earlier this month as part of an official visit to Greece along with Wyoming State Senator Stephen Pappas and New York State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis in a bipartisan delegation of Greek-American legislators.
“November 6 is an important day, not only for U.S. politics but also for the Greek-American candidates that are running for office throughout our great country,” Raptakis said.
Born in 1959, Raptakis is the son of Greek immigrant parents both from the island of Andros. His mother, the late Evangelia (Valmas) Raptakis, was from the village of Apikia and his late father, Paraskevas Raptakis, from the village of Strapouryes. His father served in the Greek Navy from 1937-39 in part with the Greek Merchant Marine on the Nea Hellas which sailed directly from Piraeus to New York and during its tenth voyage, Greece entered World War II. The ship arrived in New York and the crew disembarked and sought political asylum from the U.S. which was granted. The elder Raptakis was drafted into the U.S. Army and served until the end of the war in 1945.
“He went back to Greece in 1958, married my mother and brought her to Rhode Island. He was a blacksmith and a musician, he played the santouri and the violin, and had his own band in the 1950s and 60s, played numerous weddings in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. He became a restauranteur and he settled and raised my brother and I. He was previously married in 1940, when he came to the United States, to Emma Raptakis, and I have a sister, Marilyn, an educator for many years in Rhode Island, who now lives in Florida.”
Paraskevas Raptakis passed away while on vacation in Greece in 2002 at age 89. Raptakis’ mother passed in October 2013, and the decision was made to bury her on Andros next to his father. “They left Greece as a married couple in 1958, and they’re side by side right now,” Raptakis said.
Raptakis spent many childhood summers on Andros and his family still retains a home in Apikia. His wife, Donna-Marie, has a doctorate degree in education. Their two children are now grown and on their own, he said, noting that “my daughter Alexandra graduated with a master’s degree and works for Ocean State Job Lot in Rhode Island, and my son Nicholas just graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a computer engineering degree, he’s working for the U.S. Navy in Newport naval underwater systems… they always want to go back to Greece and visit the relatives.”
A restaurant owner and operator for 40 years, Senator Raptakis earned a BA in 1985 from Rhode Island College and has been in the political arena for over 20 years, “other than the break I had in 2010-12,” he told TNH.
Raptakis said, “I’m very passionate on helping Greece especially in these dark years of the Greek economy, my issue is seeing so many Greek youngsters suffering, graduating from high school and college and they cannot get a job. It’s very sad to see and I’m trying to help the Greek youth get out of these economic doldrums and prosper. I always said that if the United States was part of the EU and the travel privileges were wide open, Greece’s population today would probably be down to 8 million because you’d have about 2 million residing here in the United States.”
He noted that U.S.-Greece relations are at their best, with “five daily flights with 3 U.S. carriers and 1 foreign carrier, flying to Greece,” but more can be done, year round. Raptakis pointed out that “between October 15 and March 1, there should be a U.S. carrier that brings in commerce, trade, business opportunities, even tourism in the winter months. It’s an embarrassment. While Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, was in Greece [for the Thessaloniki International Fair], it has to be emphasized that it can’t be a one way street. One of the U.S. airlines should have, not daily service, but even if it’s three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday flying to Greece, and then Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday coming back from Greece. It should be one of the big three carriers to have a route to Greece, the open skies debacle with the Middle East carriers I think that’s been addressed, but at the same time, they should also pony up and try to have some type of service to boost the Greek economy. Armenia right now is fighting to have nonstop service with their national carrier from Armenia to the United States… Greece, even though it doesn’t have a national carrier left, like Olympic, maybe a partnership with Aegean Airlines and United, which is the same member team, they should have some type of service. It’s time that this becomes a reality.”
“A lot of us are fighting in our state capitals,” he said, adding that “this is a very important year where we’re going to have potentially a new member of Congress, Chris Pappas, the Democrat from New Hampshire, and Leah (Papachristou) Vukmir, [Wisconsin State Senator and State Senate Assistant Majority Leader] a Republican running for U.S. Senate, she did win her primary, and we hope she becomes another Greek-American woman in the ranks of the U.S. Senate.
“Currently, we’ve got Greek-Americans elected- 4 members of Congress, 7 state senators, and 21 members of the House of Representatives in their legislatures. In New York, we have Michael Gianaris, Nicole Malliotakis, Aravella Simotas, and James Skoufis. Fifteen states means direct access to 30 U.S. Senators and 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, that’s a strong voice. The results are very important where you the see the U.S. being the honored country at the 83rd Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF) with over 50 U.S. companies attending. But most importantly, when did you ever see an important issue like the sale of the F-35s to Turkey being blocked by the U.S. Congress, 85-15 in the U.S. Senate. As we speak today, both Republicans and Democrats have voiced their opposition to Turkey and its treatment of Rev. Brunson who is still under house arrest, Turkey making threats of buying the S-400s and not being a true partner of NATO. And stop agitating Greece. If Turkey was a true partner of NATO and the U.S., they would stop with the incursions into Greek airspace, constant threats, the Ecumenical Patriarchate still cannot operate freely, and Turkey threatening to send more refugees into Greece, that’s not being a partner. A partner would be supporting Greece in its economic crisis right now, helping its neighbor, but I don’t see that, the Erdogan administration seems to be going in the opposite direction and I think it’s ego. The president of Turkey has a strong ego, and doesn’t understand how to work together with his neighbors, allies, and partners like the United States, and basically, I don’t see any changes in the future. I see Greece being a vital asset to the United States, and at the same time it’s got to be a two-way street.
“The results of TIF are very important, Amb. Pyatt has said it all along. He worked diligently to increase the U.S. presence whether in Souda Bay, Larissa, or Kalamata, not only in military defense where we have many U.S. warships calling to ports in different islands, but strengthening Greece’s economic hand- help the Greek people, help the Greek youth. That’s the result I want to see.
“I want to see an outcome of TIF of U.S. companies getting involved where we have Greeks coming to the United States, working for Microsoft, working for Pfizer, and becoming managers and going back and opening offices for Microsoft and Pfizer and strong representation, running those offices, employing young Greek graduates from high schools and colleges to find jobs in Greece, that’s how you’re going to rebuild Greece, just like after World War II with the 100 Liberty Ships, then the 400, that’s why we have the symbol, the Hellas Liberty in Greece as a museum piece, that represents the past but also the future. I say that strongly, because it’s not just the ship, it’s a memorial to the 2,000 Greek Merchant Mariners who died, but also the future of Greece, a partnership between the United States, the Greek ship owners, and the Greek government and the Greek parliament that represents all political parties, it represents the Greek people, work together to get Greece out of this economic crisis. The Greek youth is the future of this country. We have to improve our emphasis, the U.S. and Greece, whoever it is as far as the leaders of the Greek government but also the parliament, to work in a partnership to help the Greek future which is the children of Greece.
“In Newport, Rhode Island, the 12-17 year olds of the Greek youth national sailing team, the 420 series, came to Newport, won 2 silver medals, and the state senate honored them proudly for their accomplishments and this is what we should be doing,” he said.
“This election year is also very important. Greek-Americans running for political office need the support of everyone, whether you live in California or New York, support Greeks running for political office, it sends a strong message to make this a reality to increase the number of Greek men and women running for political office whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, it’s our future, it’s the future of Greece and the United States.”
In terms of domestic issues, Raptakis’ focus is on helping families in his district with exorbitant sewer rates, fighting truck tolls, car tolls, and lowering car taxes. His recent bill concerning when the Rhode Island school year should begin made national headlines. He told TNH, “It’s about families. School should start after Labor Day, it helps the families bond together… a student with a summer job could work one more week, earning more money for school, books, and families can plan ahead for their summer vacations.”
Raptakis noted that “the Greek community plays a vital role in all our campaigns throughout our country to support the candidates. Every Greek-American throughout this country, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you own a restaurant, or you’re a doctor or lawyer, you play a key role in helping Greek-Americans run for office and be successful. If you hear of a Greek-American running for political office, even if they don’t live in your state, support them, go to their websites, and support them.
“It’s basically for the future of Greece and Cyprus, it’s for policy, the numbers don’t lie, and the results. We have a major agreement signed by SUNY Maritime and the National Merchant Maritime Academy of Hydra, Greece, signed in Hydra, to develop further partnerships and find additional areas of cooperation, another important milestone this year working with Nicole Malliotakis and Mike Gianaris, and the rest of the delegation to make that a reality, but we’re going to continue on to Chios, Syros, Andros.”
Senator Raptakis is a member of Alpha Omega; Chapter 106, District 7 of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association; the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church; Club 100; the Coventry–West Greenwich Elks; and FOP Lodge #26.