Eliot L. Engel (D-NY)
Hellenic and Orthodox Champions in the US Congress
District: New York’s 16th, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.
Committee/Leadership Assignments: (He is the new Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – the top Democrat in the US House of Representatives in the formulation of foreign policy – which is particularly significant with a Democrat in the White House and State Department.) Ranking Member – House Foreign Affairs Committee. Senior Member – House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee. Senior Member of E&C Subcommittees – Health, Energy and Power. Deputy Whip.
Contact: (202) 225-2464, (718) 796-9700, (845) 735-1000, (914) 699-4100
Regarding the state of the US economy, what are the prospects for recovery, and how soon?
The economy continues to grow, although it is at a slow pace. The US economy halted a bit in the fourth quarter last year as federal spending fell and overwhelmed the Fed’s expanded efforts to stimulate the economy. The gridlock in Washington – the partisan bickering which has prevented any meaningful budget deals, debt agreements or jobs packages – has hurt our economic recovery. It is a self-inflicted wound to our economy which has to stop if we are to get back to where we were before the almost-Depression at the end of the Bush Administration.
What are some of the particular challenges that you are facing in your district?
The 16th District includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, and we face the same issues and challenges that most districts face. We need to get more people back to work. We need better schools for our children. We need to better protect our homes from the ravages of climate change, seen recently with the rash of Super Storms which attack our shores and flood our inlands. We need to fix our crumbling infrastructure – roads, bridges, sidewalks. We need more affordable housing and public transportation. Essentially, it is our job to raise the standard of living for our entire community.
What would you say is the state of our democracy in these challenging and unusually polarized times?
American democracy has survived much worse than what we are dealing with today. We will be fine. However, in the short term, we have too many issues which need attention to be bogged down with partisanship. We need to pass bipartisan solutions on comprehensive immigration reform, on gun legislation to stop more Newtown massacres from happening, on climate change, on reforming No Child Left Behind, and many other issues. We have challenges internationally in all parts of the world which require our undivided attention. I am confident we will get through this polarized era of our history and return to a time where both parties knew when to strike a deal and when to stop rattling off talking points and fiery rhetoric.
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?
People are understandably frustrated by what they have seen coming out of Washington in the last several years. Partisan rancor has become nasty and personal, and we are living in a 24/7 news cycle age where the outrageous and the offensive get more attention than the substantive. It is disappointing to the American people and they have made that clear in their response to these polls, and at the voting booth where they have made sweeping changes in the House of Representatives three of the last four election cycles. As a Member of Congress, I can only continue to stress with my colleagues that we do the people’s work as a unit not torn in two. I have worked in a bipartisan manner with Republicans many times in the past – passing the Syria Accountability Act through a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican President. Only together will we accomplish what we must, and thus regain the American people’s trust.
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?
Even in the days before the Internet and social media I encouraged input from my constituency. The best way to discover what matters most to the people is simply to ask them. Through constituent letter, direct email communication, Facebook and Twitter interactions and face-to-face meetings I am able to ascertain what matters most to the people and I can bring that information directly to Congress. After hearing about the growing danger of violence in the theft of smart phones, I was able to craft legislation to fight that trend. I heard about employers and schools demanding passwords to emails and social media accounts – I felt that was an invasion of privacy and have legislation to combat it. Upon learning of “spoofing,” I wrote legislation to better fight the criminals who practice it, and had it signed into law. The many advancements in social media and other communication tools open up more possibilities of interaction, which is something I am eager to explore.
How did you become interested in the Greek-American community, and who introduced you to them?
Serving as an elected representative from New York for more than three decades, it has been an honor to know many Greek-Americans and to learn about their culture, history, and interests. Key players in the community, including Phil Christopher, Andy Athens, and Andy Manatos, introduced me to so many the people whose families came here from Greece, Cyprus, and elsewhere and taught me a great deal about the contributions of Greek-Americans to the history and culture of our nation.
What are your thoughts on the Cyprus issue and what are some of the things you’ve done to support settlement efforts?
It is long past time for Turkey to remove its illegal occupation force from the Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus is a fully independent country and Turkey should end its violation of Cypriot sovereignty at once. Turkey must also halt its illegal colonization of Cyprus where Turkish Cypriots now vastly outnumber people sent by Turkey to live in Cyprus. Throughout my years in Congress, I have written several pieces of legislation regarding Cyprus, including the landmark 1994 Missing in Cyprus law, the 1996 demilitarization in Cyprus resolution, and last year’s resolution expressing concern about Turkey’s colonization of Cyprus and harassment of Cypriot energy exploration. I have raised my concerns about Turkish policy toward Cyprus with the Obama Administration and directly with high ranking Turkish officials.
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?
I believe Turkish behavior in the Aegean and throughout the Eastern Mediterranean has been provocative and has, at times, raised tensions in the region. Turkey must realize that it must live in peace with its neighbors rather than pursuing policies which can threaten its neighbors.
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 am well aware of and deeply concerned about the situation facing the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey. In the last Congress, I was a cosponsor of H.Res. 506, which stated that the continued closure of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki has been an ongoing issue of concern for the American people and the United States Congress. The resolution also welcomed some progress by the Turkish government, including the historic meeting between Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, but urged Ankara to facilitate the reopening of the Halki Seminary and address other longstanding concerns of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The resolution was adopted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, but did not receive a vote in the full House of Representatives by the end of the 112th Congress.
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?
The name issue is a long-standing irritant in the Balkans which must be resolved. I call upon officials in Athens and Skopje and the international community to redouble their efforts to resolve this matter so that it no longer undermines progress for people of the region.
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.”