Hellenic and Orthodox
Champions in the US Congress
Niki Tsongas (D-MA)

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Niki Tsongas (D-MA)
District: The Fifth Congressional District of Massachusetts spans 582 square miles and includes twenty-nine cities and towns across parts of
Middlesex, Essex, and Worcester counties. The current population of the Fifth District is 635,000 people.
Committee/Leadership Assignments: House Armed Services Committee and Natural Resources Committee.
Contact: (202) 225-3411, (978) 263-1951, (978) 459-0101, (978) 681-6200

Regarding the state of the US economy, what are the prospects for recovery, and how soon?

At the start of 2009, our economy was losing 700,000 jobs a month. Over the past four years, we have added back more than 4.5 million private sector jobs and seen 29 straight months of job growth. We have made progress but there is still so much more to be done. Congress must show much greater urgency in helping the millions more workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and have not been able to find a new one in this difficult economy. There are many commonsense and traditionally bipartisan steps that we should take in order to help get our economy moving again and help people get back to work. I have supported extending unemployment benefits, as well as forcefully advocated for a comprehensive jobs package that will help strengthen the economy and create jobs. The job numbers have started showing improvement overall, but we still have a long way to go towards getting America’s economy and unemployed citizens working again.

What are some of the particular challenges that you are facing in your district?

Being out in the community at meetings and events, hosting town hall and telephone-town hall gatherings, and reading letters and e-mails, I have seen firsthand the devastating impact of our fallen economy and how disastrous unemployment can be to a family's finances and morale. The consequences ripple throughout all of America’s communities, including those in the Massachusetts 5th District. I have heard story after story from hardworking individuals who have looked everywhere for a job and done everything they know to do, but have found no luck. I am constantly seeking new ways to help reinvigorate our workforce. For example, recently my office helped facilitate the installation of a solar panel array on top of a local mill. Some of the technology used in the panels was developed and built right here in the city of Lawrence. The project helped put local residents to work and contributed to environmentally-friendly initiatives, which is important to our community.

What would you say is the state of our democracy in these challenging and unusually polarized times?

There are real, fundamental differences that divide our two national parties and right now Congress is very polarized, which can bring progress to a grinding halt. But I have discovered that even in these incredibly partisan times it is possible to find common ground and to make substantive improvements in people’s lives. The key for success is to turn to my constituents for ideas and then to doggedly pursue those issues alongside anyone who will work with me, regardless of party affiliation. I’ve been successful in working with Republicans to advance a number of issues including improving women’s health, better protecting our servicemembers, and providing more support for our small businesses.

In various polls conducted throughout the U.S. Congress hasn't fared well with the American people. Why is that, in your opinion, and how do you address this issue as Congressman?

The GOP-led 112th Congress has been one of the least productive in history, with only 169 bills signed into law. Compare that to a few years ago, when a Democrat-led Congress passed 460. An ineffective stalemate is as frustrating to me as it is to the American people, which is why I voted against adjourning for the August district work period. As much as my time in Massachusetts is vital to hear the ideas and concerns of constituents, I felt it was necessary to remain in Washington to finish the laundry list of business that this Congressional leadership had left unfinished: no comprehensive jobs agenda, no tax cuts for the middle class, no farm bill, no Violence Against Women Act, no Postal Reform bill, and no bipartisan plan to prevent the automatic cuts from occurring (otherwise known as the sequester).

Would you encourage more active voter participation in your decision making as Congressman, using the advances of technology, like the Internet and other forms of communication?

Absolutely. I have made accessibility to the people I represent a hallmark of my office and my time as Congresswoman. When Congress is not in session, I make it a point to spend most days visiting with residents and interacting with the communities that make up my district. Social media and the Internet have opened new, productive avenues to increase and streamline communication. I have instituted innovative ways to network with the people of Massachusetts, such as an eNewsletter, telephone-town hall meetings and Congress on Your Corner community gatherings.

How did you become interested in the Greek-American community, and who introduced you to them?

Massachusetts’ Fifth Congressional District has a rich Greek-American community, as does my family. My husband Paul’s family emigrated from Greece to the city of Lowell when his father was three years old, and I have three Greek-American daughters. Since I was first elected, I have been a proud member of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, which has played a key role in bringing initiatives of significance to the Greek-American community to Congress’ attention. The Fifth District, and the country, has benefited tremendously from the contributions of its vibrant Greek-American heritage and their dedicated community leaders.

What are your thoughts on the Cyprus issue and what are some of the things you've done to support settlement efforts?

Respect for international law and calls for self-representation must be answered with regard to Cyprus. Turkey must live up to its international responsibilities and return all of Cyprus to the Cypriots. Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have supported a variety of initiatives in support of this outcome, including sending letters to President Obama and Secretary Clinton applauding the administration’s commitment to exercise U.S. leadership in the negotiation for a just solution on Cyprus. We agree that a solution to the Cyprus problem should result in a single, sovereign country within a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Thirty-eight years of discord is long enough; Cypriots deserve a government for them and by them.

Do you consider Turkish provocations in the Aegean a threat to regional stability and international peace? Also, what actions have you taken or do you plan to take to encourage the US to take a stronger stance against this kind of irresponsible behavior?

The Turkish government cannot maintain their occupation and current line of thinking in regard to the Aegean region and hope to ever achieve membership in the EU. International authorities have been working hard to maintain stability and encourage progress, even in light of Turkey’s detrimental actions, such as their increased efforts to illegally obtain natural resources from Cyprus’ sovereign territory. I recently submitted a statement for the Congressional Record condemning Turkey’s occupation. It stated “the solution must reunite the island and safeguard the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Cypriots and the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus.” In addition, I support legislation has been referred to the House Committees on Judiciary and Foreign Affairs that would enable U.S. citizens who own property in the Turkish-occupied territory to seek financial restitution with the current inhabitants of their land or the Turkish government.

Are you aware of the state persecution against the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey and what have you done to address this issue in Congress?

I visited with the Ecumenical Patriarchate during his visit to the United States in October of 2009. I am a cosponsor of legislation urging Turkey to respect the rights and religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I have also signed several letters initiated by the Hellenic Caucus to Secretary Clinton and President Obama requesting that the US intervene in helping end the discriminatory policies of the Government of Turkey against its population of ethnic Greek Orthodox Christians living in Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. On a similar note, I am a cosponsor of additional legislation that urges the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties.

Since the Bush Administration recognized FYROM as "Macedonia", the country has become more intransigent when it comes to territorial and cultural irredentism against Greece who is a major financial supporter in the region. What kind of action on the part of the US would you promote in order for a mutually acceptable solution to be facilitated?

I am an original cosponsor of a resolution that expresses Congress’ belief that the FYROM, UN and Greece should find a "compromise composite name with a clear geographic qualifier, e.g. Northern Macedonia," for all international uses.

Neo Magazine and the public policy/lobbying firm of Manatos & Manatos in Washington, DC have come together to present a monthly profile of “Hellenic and Orthodox Champions in the US Congress.

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