|A statue in Perry, IA honoring its mayor George Soumas.|
SPANNING DECADES AND STATES,
A GLIMPSE AT GREEK-AMERICAN MAYORS
Published in The National Herald, May 7-13, 2016 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos, TNH Staff Writer
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CHICAGO- With the recent election of Chrysostomos (Chris) Alahouzos as mayor of Tarpon Springs, FL we are again reminded of the advances all Greeks have made in America. Alahouzos is far from the first Greek-born person to become mayor of an American city. As anyone following the national press on Alahouzos knows, he did not just spring out of the ground but has a long history of civic service including but not limited to being, in 2012, the Vice-Mayor of Tarpon Springs. And while Alahouzos may be the first Greek-born mayor of Tarpon Springs he is most certainly not the first mayor of Greek descent elected to that office in that specific city. Greeks have a complex and historically deep involvement with American politics.
In terms strictly of the office of mayor, at this moment in time, no one source or published account systematically lists every Greek-American who holds or has held this office in the United States. While the Greek press in North America has always carried coverage on any and all Hellenic candidates for any and all political office, again I know no listing of these figures across time. As far as I have been able to discover, it is only with the sustained survey work of the late Professor Charles C. Moskos that we have the first attempt at reviewing Greek political figures in the United States
In my own efforts to advance what Dr. Moskos first offered, I have been surprised by how fundamentally hard it has been to even gather a systematic listing of just mayors. It is to not simply difficult to determine the ethnicity or racial background of individual mayors but many American communities just do not have a full listing of their own local politicians. I stress this point because Moskos has written that “over a score of second-generation Greek-Americans have been chosen mayors in the mill towns of New England, a delayed culmination of the aspirations of the early Greek immigrants who toiled there.” I have not found twenty or more Greek-American mayors in New England. In point of fact I have been able to locate and confirm just forty seven Greek-American mayors in nineteen states.
I have made very specific distinctions in this mayoral survey. First, I have only included those individuals who held office, not those who ran but were not elected. Second, not every city in the nation has a mayor; many have councils, and so the president of a council can be seen as the leader and so similar in terms of the office of a mayor. But, words do have distinct meanings and so this survey deals just with those political office holders designated as mayors. With this same general thought in mind, individuals who are married to a Greek or person of Greek descent but who are themselves not of Greek birth or extraction are not included.
For our purposes here I have divided the United States into nine regions: New England, Mid-Atlantic States, Midwest, Appalachian Highlands, Southeast, Heartland, Mountain, Southwest, Pacific Coast inclusive of the noncontiguous states of Alaska and Hawaii. To simplify our survey let me quickly note I found no one of Hellenic background who is or who has been a mayor in the Mountain States: Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming or Nevada.
In New England (e.g. Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island) we find one Greek-American mayor in Maine, the honorable Nicholas Mavodones (Portland) for Connecticut, George A. Athanson (Hartford) and George P. Harlamon (Waterbury). Massachusetts can claim seven: Monte Basbas (Newton); Louis J. Diamond (North Adams); George C. Eliades (Lowell); George Katsaros (Haverhill); Byron J. Mathews (Newburyport); Nick Mavroules (Peabody); and Tarsy T. Poulios (Lowell).
Next in New Hampshire, two Michael E. J. Blastos (Keene) and Ted Gatsas (Manchester) while, as far as I have been able to determine, Vermont has never had a mayor of Greek descent and finally Rhode Island with Dean Lewis in Newport.
In the Mid-Atlantic States (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York) we have Lee Alexander (Syracuse); John Cleo Apostol (Annapolis); Andrew J. Jakomas (McKeesport); Alex Jeffers (Williamsburg PA); Emmanuel K. Kallas (East Pittsburgh PA) Michael John Pantelidis (Annapolis MD) and then Andronic Pappas (Altoona PA)
For the Heartland states (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri) Helen Boosalis (Lincoln, NE); Tom Jolas (Mason City, IA); George Soumas (Perry, IA) and then George J. Vavoulis (St. Paul, MN).
The Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio) Nicholas Blasé (Niles, IL); George Chacharis (Gary, IN); P. Peter Chacos (Terre Haute, IN); H. Jonathon Costas (Valparaiso, IN); Adeline Jay Geo-Karis (Zion, IL); John B. Nicosia (East Chicago, IN); Samuel T. Pappas (Garden City, MI); James Pappas (Fox Lake, IL); Jim Plakas (Garden City, MI); Peter Anthony Sarantos (Elkhart, IN) and James Tassis (Ecorse, MI).
In all of the Appalachian Highland states (Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) we have only Bill Saffo (Wilmington, NC).
For the Southeast (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana) we have the aforementioned Alahouzos, and also Constantine Apostolou (Pensacola, FL); George Cretekos (Clearwater, FL); James Nichols (Apalachicola, FL); Anita Protos (Tarpon Springs, FL); John Rousakis (Savanna, GA) and George Tsourakis (Tarpon Springs, FL).
For all of the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas) we find only Anton Proto (Nogales, AZ)
Pacific Coast States (inclusive of the noncontiguous states) (Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii) Arthur Christ Agnos (San Francisco, CA); George Christopher (San Francisco, CA) and Tom Means (Mountain View, CA). While many readers would have preferred a detailed article on each of these individuals we must begin by knowing which Greek-Americans now hold or have held the office of mayor in Ameriki. Recently, it has been advanced that Martin Arguelles Sr. was not only the first mayor of San Agustin (St. Augustine) in the Florida territory of New Spain but that he was of Greek descent. Is this true? I don’t know. But that is how we move forward in Greek-American Studies. One suggestion at a time, vetted by the community at large and then the data is accepted or rejected as the evidence is reviewed by the world at large.
What else can we do? Facts are facts, no matter who uncovers them. At a time when more persons of Greek birth and or Greek descent are now to be found in the American educational system---from literally pre-school to the most prestigious universities in this nation—than at any other time in the history of this country, we have no scholars who are systematically reviewing, studying, assessing and then writing about our collective history in this hemisphere.
The politicians cited above are worthy of more extensive study. As a group they represent the very best and unfortunately, at times, the very worst of our community. Consequently as with all things Greek in North America, Greek-American mayors have achieved the highest honors inclusive of public monuments that their local community could provide as well as being found guilty of high crimes and sentenced to jail. It is an extremely odd mix to say the least. Ultimately we need to know more about our common history in the United States if we are ever to understand our place not only in this nation’s history but that of Hellenism itself.