New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is Rhode Island Senator Leonidas P. Raptakis.
We selected the Democratic Greek-American politician due to his unwavering support of Hellenism in the United States, Greece and Cyprus. Senator Raptakis served in the Senate between 1996 to 2010 and in the House of Representatives from 1992 to 1996 prior to his Rhode Island Senate post in 2012, in addition to being a restaurant proprietor.
The Greek-American Senator sat down with New Greek TV President Yanna Darilis and spoke of his political journey, Greek roots, and Hellenic and Rhode Island initiatives in our interview below. An on-air segment of the interview's entirety can be viewed at the bottom of this page.
Yanna Darilis: Can you tell us about your background?
Leonidas Raptakis: Both my parents are from the island of Andros. My father came to the United States in 1940 while working on a Greek ocean liner. The ship had arrived in New York and he asked for political asylum. When the U.S. entered World War II he was drafted in the U.S. Army and served from 1942 to 1945. He went back to Greece in 1958, married my mother, and brought her back to Rhode Island where my brother and I were born.
Yanna Darilis: How many Greeks are there in Rhode Island?
Leonidas Raptakis: Rhode Island has a small community of around 8,000. We have three Greek Orthodox Churches and a very vibrant community.
Yanna Darilis: Did you pass the Greek language on to your children?
Leonidas Raptakis: The second generation is a little more difficult because I did not have the luxury of being in a community with Greek language schools. It's sad because I'm afraid that is what's happening not just in Greek communities, but other ethnic communities as well. The good thing is both my children love to go to Greece. We try to get to Greece every other year.
Yanna Darilis: How did you get involved in politics as a successful businessman?
Leonidas Raptakis: Through the restaurant business. As a small business owner, I used to complain a lot about high taxes and business regulations. A friend of mine said don't complain, you're a leader in the community, run for office. I decided to run for State Representative in 1992 and I knew nothing about politics. I ran in the Democratic primary and I defeated the candidate from the Democratic party by 62%...I have continued on for a lot of years unopposed.
Yanna Darilis: What is Rhode Island's biggest hurdle?
Leonidas Raptakis: We don't have Silicone Valley in our state. We are an old manufacturing state and what's happening over the years is that we did not catch up to Massachusetts or Connecticut and that's the problem we are facing. We are trying to retool the state with general dynamics. We just won a seventeen-billion-dollar contract to build ten nuclear powered submarines in the next ten years. Hopefully this will bring back employment. We have some great universities and are trying to create new jobs for the future.
Yanna Darilis: You are doing a lot for Greece, you are part of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association (WHIA). Can you tell us about that?
Leonidas Raptakis: That initiative was created by the Greek Parliament as a whole from all political parties in 1996, to have a good relationship and collaborative with every Greek legislature outside of Greece and Cyprus. Most of us are from the United States, Canada and Australia. We try to be in Greece every two years. We are trying to build bridges from our homeland, especially during this economic crisis. This comes from the bottom of our hearts. We saw what happened in Greece during and after World War II and the Civil War, and how it rebuilt itself as a nation and a leader.
Yanna Darilis: How are you helping Greece?
Leonidas Raptakis: We want to promote more U.S. companies to do more business in Greece. We try to tell companies to relocate in Greece. Greece is one of the only countries that doesn't have nonstop flights from here. If you don't have nonstop service throughout the year, how do you get business people to come to Greece and invest? We started an initiative with my state legislatures to write a letter to the Vice President of Delta Airlines to bring nonstop flights at least a couple times per week.
Yanna Darilis: You are also a leader in gaining state recognition for the Pontian Genocide, the Armenian Genocide and the Greek Genocide.
Leonidas Raptakis: We are one of the first states to pass a resolution in the United States to recognize and to educate all on what took place, where over 356,000 Greek-Pontians were slaughtered by the Ottoman Empire. We are trying to make sure that Greek-Pontians are included with the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust, to remind individuals throughout the world that genocide(s) cannot reoccur. We want to make sure by next year, that Turkey recognizes the fact about what took place during the Greek- Pontian and Armenian Genocides.
Senator Raptakis discusses more exciting efforts he is working on including Cyprus, the Hellas Liberty to Greece project, the Greek maritime industry, and other impressive Hellenic ventures both domestically and abroad. View the interview in full below, by scrolling to the very bottom of this page.