The key Greek-Americans who have developed strong personal bonds with Joe Biden over the years talk exclusively to Greek Reporter about the new US President.
“We haven’t had a Greek in the White House, but now we have Joe Bidenopoulos,” Joe Biden once said during the annual celebration of Greece’s War of Independence Day at the White House as Vice President under Barack Obama.
Greece and the Greek-American community expect that the new President will turn his words into action.
One thing that differentiates Biden from his predecessors is his long-standing and close ties with the Greek diaspora, in addition to a good command of Greece-related issues, his Greek allies note.
In the Administration: Jen Psaki
Joe Biden has hired an all-female senior communications team for his administration, including naming veteran Democratic spokesperson Jen Psaki as his White House press secretary.
Psaki is of Irish, Greek and Polish descent, with her Greek roots in Messinia through her father, James R. Psaki.
“Honored to work again for @JoeBiden, a man I worked on behalf of during the Obama-Biden Admin as he helped lead economic recovery, rebuilt our relationships with partners (turns out good practice) and injected empathy and humanity into nearly every meeting I sat in,” Psaki Tweeted following the announcement.
Joe Biden’s Greek-American Friends
Investment manager and president and founder of Kynikos Associates Jim Chanos has been one of the most prolific fundraisers for Joe Biden.
Born in 1957 into a Jewish-Greek immigrant family, Chanos helped to raise $500,000 for Biden in 2019, according to the Financial Times.
In June of that year, he also organized a fundraising blitz at his New York home, in an event attended by dozens of Biden’s supporters, including Governor Andrew Cuomo.
When in the beginning of Biden’s campaign for the Democratic nomination things were not going according to plan, Chanos remained loyal. He famously told the Financial Times: “A candidate is not a momentum stock, despite what Wall Street might think…You support them because you believe in them.”
Father Alex Karloutsos, the strongman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who has known eight Presidents throughout his tenure, told Greek Reporter that among all of them, President-elect Joe Biden is “his closest friend.”
Father Karloutsos says that Biden is a real friend of Greece.
“He’s very much committed and friends with the Greek American community, and that has manifested in how he likes to call himself ‘Bidenopoulos.’
“You don’t call yourself “Bidenopoulos” unless you feel that you are a part of that Greek-American family,” Fr. Karloutsos says.
Greek-American entrepreneur and Democratic party insider Dennis Mehiel revealed in an interview with Greek Reporter that he had to grab President Joe Biden by his lapels in order to convince him to run against Donald Trump for the White House.
He recalled that in 2018, both men were involved in Congressional campaigning, and began to discuss the possibility of Biden running for the nation’s top office in the upcoming elections.
On the road together, Biden told Meheil that “he just doesn’t know quite what he’s going to do,” Meheil said, and, frustrated, Meheil grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket, and began “shaking him,” he recalls, saying, “do you realize that you are the Harry Truman of our time?”
Andy and Mike Manatos of Manatos & Manatos, a lobbying firm in Washington D.C associated with American politics for over one third of US history, have developed a strong personal relationship with Joe Biden and his family.
“When (Biden) came to Washington 47 years ago as a 30-year-old US Senator, across the hall from him was a 29-year-old committee staff director, Andy Manatos, and they have known each other and worked closely since then,” Mike Manatos recalls.
Speaking to Greek Reporter, Manatos says: “His two sons, Hunter and Beau, were friends of mine, I worked in the senate with them and we were in high school in our teenage years and I’ve gotten close with them. I’ve gotten to know him and his kids, his sister, his nieces and nephews, so we’ve known the family for decades.
“I’ve got to say, of all the hundreds of policy makers that our family has worked with over 85 years, few rise to the level that Joe Biden does. He is a true public servant, he is someone who is truly committed to what’s best for our country.”
Mike Manatos recalls that when his organization honored him with the OXI Courage Award several years ago, Biden said, ‘Many of my ideals, many of my values are the same as the Greek community,’ and I truly believe that. He is very family oriented, he lives philotimo as much as any non-Greek that I know.”
The Greek-American lobbyist says that “it is the first time in US history that we have had an incoming president of the US who has spent his decades-long career promoting Greece and Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
“We’ve had others come into the presidency who have known the Greek-American community, who have said good things, but Joe Biden has spent his whole career fighting for Greece. So, it’s a tremendous start,” he added.
Eleni Kounalakis, the 50th Lieutenant Governor of California and the daughter of prominent diaspora figure Angelo Tsakopoulos, has developed a close friendship with the President for the past several years while the two politicians have also supported each other’s candidacies.
In a statement to Greek Reporter, Kounalakis said:
“A daughter of California, Kamala Harris has electrified the country by becoming the first woman Vice President – it will be wonderful to see her bring her inspiring leadership to the highest platform of any woman in our country’s history.”
She added that Biden and Harris would bring a new ethos to the White House, and added:
“I don’t think there has ever been a US President before who has a widely-known Greek nickname. President Biden told me himself how proud he was to be called ‘Bidenopoulos’ by his constituents in Maryland many years ago. The name has stuck throughout his career. He is the only sitting Vice President to visit Cyprus, he has many Greek American friends and supporters, and above all is a philhellene at heart!”
Kounalakis said that Greek-Americans will see leadership which rebuilds our alliances, and works within international institutions.
“We were fortunate to have an excellent US Ambassador in Greece over the last four years in Geoff Pyatt. The US-Greek relationship is very strong right now. I am sure the Biden/Harris administration will prioritize bilateral relations with Greece, and work closely with PM Mitsotakis to advance our shared interests and values,” she told Greek Reporter.
George Marcus, the Greek-American billionaire real estate broker has been one of the most important fundraisers for Joe Biden.
Born George Moutsanas in Euboea, Greece, in 1941, he migrated to the US with his family in 1945, aged four.
Marcus, who has a net worth of $1.5 billion, is the chairman of two publicly traded investment firms, Marcus & Millichap and Essex Property Trust.
Marcus has been a prominent Democratic donor for the past decade. He was ranked 15th in 2018 among the top campaign contributors in the country, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Beyond his previous assistance to Hilary Clinton, Marcus also hosted a fundraiser that featured former President Barack Obama in 2014.
Dennis Assanis, an Athens-born engineer and the 28th President of the University of Delaware, along with his wife Eleni, have enjoyed a many years-long friendship with Biden.
The relationship between the couples blossomed after Assanis took on his current role at the University of Delaware, of which both President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden are alumni, in 2016.
To his great surprise, Assanis received a personal call from Biden at the time, who offered to give a speech at Assanis’ inauguration as University president. Since then, both Dennis and Eleni have been close with the Bidens, who are close to Delaware’s Greek-American community.
Notably, the couple was among a select group of those invited to President Biden’s Inauguration, a ceremony that will be highly restricted due to the coronavirus and potential threats of violence.
George Tsunis is a Greek American lawyer and hotel magnate, who supported Joe Biden’s campaign for the Democratic nomination from the beginning.
In 2018 he had said, according to Politico: “Don’t let anyone fool you: If he decides to run, you will see a national infrastructure come together.”
“In the past when he’s run, there has been a formidable primary opponent … If he chooses to run in 2020, he would be the Obama-Clinton-like candidate. I think people would feel his time is now, and I think a lot of the country would feel that we need a Joe Biden as president.”
Tsunis, the son of first-generation immigrants from Greece, James and Eleni Tsunis, is the chairman and CEO of Chartwell Hotels, which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels in Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and manages his family’s portfolio of real estate holdings.
After registering as a Democrat in November 2009, Tsunis raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and donated $300,000 to Democratic super PACs and $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
According to state records, Tsunis and his wife, Olga, have given $115,000 to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
He was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Norway by President Obama, but later indicated that he was no longer seeking the nomination.
Working with Joe Biden on Policy Issues
Nicholas Logothetis, Co-Founder and Chairman of Concordia and executive board member at the Libra Group has been in a close working relationship with President Biden and his team.
He was instrumental in bringing Biden to Greece in 2017 to participate in the inaugural Concordia Europe Summit in Athens, where he had the opportunity to meet both government and opposition politicians.
“I think it was a very important visit, I believe it was his first trip outside of the country after he left the White House as VP,” Logothetis told Greek Reporter.
“We also had, during that time, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who was at the same event, so they have a close relationship, and I know they both enjoy very much spending time together.”
Logothetis says he was honored to host Biden three times at Concordia, once in 2015 as VP in NY, once in June 2017 in Athens, and most recently in 2018 in Colombia for the Americas Summit.
“We have a very good and cooperative relationship with him and with his team, and look forward to expanding upon that once he’s in the White House.
“We’ll look forward to inviting him back to Athens at some point during the next four years, for sure,” Logothetis said.
“I’ve been here many times, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the Greek people have shaped my consciousness, the Greek community in which I received my early political baptism, the Greek community around the world, and throughout my Senate career, and as VP, I’ve always believed that a strong Greece, firmly anchored in Europe, is critical to the long-term security and stability of my country, the US,” Biden had said in his 2017 Athens speech.
Logothetis, who founded Concordia, along with business partner Matthew Swift, says Biden is a very special character.
“He’s very empathetic, you feel like he really cares about you. He meets so many people everyday, he knows so many people, but when he’s with you, he’s really listening to you and he has great amounts of insight … He is all around just a fantastic leader and a fantastic person, someone to look up to,” Logothetis told Greek Reporter.
John Podesta is an American political consultant who served as White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001 and Counselor to President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2015.
Before that, he served in the Clinton Administration as White House Staff Secretary from 1993 to 1995 and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations from 1997 to 1998.
He is the former president, and now Chair and Counselor, of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank in Washington, D.C.
Podesta spent most of his early years in Chicago, where he was born, growing up in the neighborhood of Jefferson Park on the city’s Northwest Side. His mother, Mary (née Kokoris), was Greek-American, and his father, John David Podesta Sr., was Italian-American.
While he held no formal role in the transition, it’s clear that Podesta has plenty of juice the Biden team. As the American Prospect commented “the “Podesta seal of approval” is intended to confer progressive bona fides on nominees.”
Vlahakis-Hanks with President Joe Biden. Credit: ECOS®Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, President and CEO of ECOS®, is not just a successful business leader but also an influential and dedicated environmentalist.
In a recent interview with Greek Reporter, she expressed her optimism about the future of green issues following the election of Biden and Kamala Harris.
“I first met Joe Biden 23 years ago when I was the Executive Director of the American Hellenic Council and he was the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Over the last two decades, I’ve worked with him not just on Greek issues but on Green issues too. He’s the best of the best,” she said.
Vlahakis-Hanks has also a close working relationship with Vice-President Kamala Harris. ECOS presented her with the Environmental Champion Award in 2018 “because at the state level in California, and later in the Senate, she demonstrated exceptional leadership in the protection of the environment.
“She has an unbelievable track record as an environmental champion, and that’s why we gave her the award in 2018. She brings that huge commitment and passion with her as she heads to Washington, D.C.
“I am looking forward to work with them for a greener future,” Vlahakis-Hanks noted.