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Astoria keeps eye on Greece after election

Astoria State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas says many of her Greek-American constituents were happy after New Democracy leader Antonis Samaris, seen at right being sworn in as prime minister, won this month's elections and kept Greece in the European Union. AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
TimesLedger Newspapers

Astoria’s Greek-American elected officials said their constituents remain concerned but hopeful about Greece’s economic future after the nation’s New Democracy Party was elected by a narrow margin on a platform of remaining within the European Union.

“Hopefully, they’ll get their act together and start getting things moving in the right direction,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria).

Astoria has the largest Greek population outside of the Mediterranean country, and both of the neighborhood’s state legislators — Gianaris and state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) — are Greek American.

Ever since the beginning of the country’s debt crisis in 2009, the neighborhood has had one eye on the motherland. In Greece’s most recent election June 17, the pro-bailout New Democracy Party edged out the anti-austerity Syriza Party, thereby making New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras the prime minister.

The voters’ choice means Greece will remain part of the Eurozone, but Samaras wants to renegotiate the terms of the debt deal with the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — collectively known as the troika, The New York Times reported.

“Many Greek Americans, those who have family in Greece and those who don’t, are very concerned about the economic well-being of the country and the economic stability,” Simotas said.

Both Gianaris and Simotas have family members back in the country. Simotas said her and her husband’s relatives are glad the country is staying within the union and believed it would be disastrous not only for Greece but for the rest of the Eurozone if the nation did not.

“People came together and understood the importance of staying with the unified currency and having trading partners,” Simotas said.

Gianaris said he has a retired uncle and aunt in the country who are not greatly affected by the crisis. His cousins are struggling but have work.

“The concerns I hear are less political and more concerns about family members who still live in Greece,” Gianaris said of his constituents.

The senator said he had not heard a consensus from Astoria’s Greeks over whether or not they were happy with the results of the election.

“Like in Greece itself, there’s people on all sides of the issue,” he said. “But I think there’s a general deference to the people who live there and the choices they make.”

Gianaris said he had no opinion on what Greece’s next steps should be, but he hoped the country could bounce back from its economic troubles.

“To see them suffering as they are is difficult,” Gianaris said, “but all we can do is lend whatever moral support we can and look forward to the day when this is all behind them.”

Simotas, however, was more optimistic about the results of Greece’s decision to stay within the European Union.

“I think that this will have a long-term positive effect on the U.S. economy,” she said. “It will take time, but overall it will be a positive effect.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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