By: Aphrodite Kotrotsios, Publisher
Greek-American entrepreneur Chris Zannetos from the greater Boston area is running for the Democratic seat in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District. Congressional candidate Zannetos chatted with Hellenic News of America’s (HNA) publisher, Aphrodite Kotrotsios, about his decision to run for congress and about what he hopes to accomplish. His father, Zenon Zannetos was a professor at MIT and active in many Hellenic organizations. His parents, Zenon and Clotilde Zannetos instilled in him his commitment to his community, heritage and country. His father’s ability to achieve the American Dream and a better life for his family really left an impression on the candidate. The candidate believes that the American Dream should be available to everyone and this is a central reason for him running for Congress.
Aphrodite Kotrotsios: Where were you born and raised?
I have spent my life in the Boston area. I was born in Boston, raised in the western suburbs, went to college in Cambridge – and settled and started my companies in the greater Boston area.
What is your educational background?
I received my bachelor’s degree from MIT and went on to receive my master’s in Management at MIT Sloan.
Talk to us about your Greek heritage. What was it like for you growing up in a Greek in America?
My father immigrated to the United States to find an opportunity that at the time was unavailable in his homeland of Cyprus. He stepped off the boat with $100 in his pocket, and a scholarship to a college that went bankrupt after his first semester. With a lot of hard work, risk-taking, help from others – and the opportunity given him by the greatest country on earth – he and my mother built a great life for themselves and a head start for my siblings and I. I’ve always believed in the American Dream because like so many other Greeks, my family has lived it. But I know that many in our community face obstacles that make it seem impossible to achieve, and that must change.
Growing up in Massachusetts’ Greek American community meant being supported by and supporting others. It meant playing in the Taxiarchae social hall while my father finished board meetings, helping clean tables during church events, frequenting restaurants owned by other Greeks, and visiting the company that my father started with his koumbaro. Our community’s strength was based not only on a common cultural heritage but on common values and ideals of hard work and responsibility to our community.
How has your Greek heritage influenced you?
For a Greek, hard work, drive, and the power of community are engrained in our DNA. My parents taught our family in word and action the meaning of Hellenic citizenship that my father learned growing up in Cyprus – an active dedication, responsibility, and accountability to their community, to work for the common good. I saw it in the work my father, Zenon Zannetos, did on the board of the Hellenic College Holy Cross School of Theology and the Maliotis Cultural Center in Brookline. And in my mother’s work with the St. Demetrios (Weston) Philoptochos and the Hellenic Women’s Club EOK.
Like my father, I’ve tried to bring the Hellenic spirit of entrepreneurship and citizenship to my life as an adult. I’ve served on the board of administration for St. Demetrios Church in Weston, where I’ve been an active member since I was a teenager. I’ve started and run three successful technology companies, creating hundreds of jobs for Massachusetts’ residents, and have dedicated my professional career to protecting people and companies while they use the Internet. I also founded STEMatchMA, a non-profit that brings companies together with schools to make the opportunities of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education available to all.
What was your motivating factor to run for Congress?
I’m not a politician, I’m an entrepreneur. While I’ve always enjoyed serving the community, whether as a youth soccer coach, on the parish council, volunteer or board member of community groups, or as the founder of a non-profit that brings companies and schools together to make STEM education more accessible to everyone – I did not plan to run for Congress.
Even before the pandemic and our economic crisis, people were concerned about their financial security and opportunity for their children. So when I went to a “Meet the Candidates Night” in late January, I hope to hear candidates focus on how we make sure the American Dream of achieving a better life than the generation before is truly possible for everyone. Not only didn’t the candidates discuss this, but none also had any experience relevant to making it possible.
Now more than ever, we need people who have experience in the technologies that drive our world, in creating jobs for the 21st-century economy, and in creating win/win solutions to tough problems. This is what I’ve done in my career and with my non-profit, and I felt compelled to run to help ensure my children don’t inherit a country in which people don’t believe in the American Dream.
What matters are most important to you? If elected, what will you fight for?
I think our country and our democracy are at a critical point. The COVID-19 pandemic increased our challenges dramatically, but it has also highlighted the solution. After we get through this, we can’t go back to business as usual in Washington. Now more than ever we need people in Washington who understand the science and technology that drive our world, have experience creating higher-paying, more resilient 21st-century jobs, and know-how to bring people together for win/win solutions instead of posturing for partisan gain.
Even before the pandemic, over 40% of Americans didn’t believe the American Dream of achieving a better life than the generation before was available to them. And with urgent action needed on income inequality, healthcare accessibility, climate change, and other important issues, we’ve gotten only inaction, divisiveness, and hyper-partisanship. Washington isn’t reflective of a division in our country, it’s a driver of division.
What is your stance on taxes, healthcare, income inequality, and student loans?
One of the biggest issues we face in our country is the staggering gap in wealth and opportunity, which is the largest cause of the disparity in health outcomes between the wealthy and everyone else. Healthcare is a human right, and the government should provide a public option to ensure that all have access to quality healthcare. Our young people should not be drowned by debt and set back before they’re even out of the starting gate.
Even before the pandemic, people were concerned about their financial security and the opportunity available to their children. Unfortunately, during a great economic boom, the wealth gap continued to grow and we racked up a record trillion-dollar deficit last year. The pandemic and economic crisis is going to dramatically increase these problems. In the short term, we’re going to have to increase our deficit further and ask our wealthiest citizens to help dig us out of this hole. There’s simply no other way.
The only way that we will fully recover from this disaster, however, is to grow our economy and create more good, stable, high-paying jobs. And the reason we are so ill-prepared for this economic crisis and the wealth gap is so large is that our government has not prepared itself or us for the technology revolution.
To help our young people and to begin to close the income inequality gap we should start by raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and build a realistic plan for its continued increase to a livable wage over time. Today’s economic crisis also creates an opportunity for us to radically revamp our educational system, ensuring that our children – and our adults – have the technical and science skills required for 21st-century jobs. Let’s not just invest in our infrastructure and solving the climate crisis, let’s invest in our people by training and retraining them to succeed in the technology-driven economy.
What is your stance on Hellenic issues such as Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus and the continuous Turkish aggression of the Aegean Sea?
Greece has faced a long history of oppression and aggression from outside forces but has always managed to rise. Even today, as Turkey has flooded the border with refugees, Greece continues to respond in a measured and an appropriate manner.
Although I was just a child living in the United States when Cyprus was illegally invaded in 1974, the invasion and occupation had a strong impact on me. My relatives in Cyprus were forced to flee their homes, and now the closest I can get to my grandparent’s home is by reaching through the barbed wire of the Green Line to touch its walls. I have been so proud to see Cyprus rebuild its economy and community since the invasion, but that success should not distract the United States from re-engaging to drive a just solution to this illegal occupation.
This experience has helped mold my belief that the United States’ foreign policy should be driven by political and economic justice, as well as by security. And that we should be fierce supporters of the democracies such as Greece that espouses and lives our democratic ideals.
How do you engage with your Greek-American community?
I’ve been an active member of the greater Boston Greek community for decades, and have tried to honor and continue my father’s commitment to the Church and to the community.
I served as an altar boy at St. Demetrios Church in Weston, returning as a parishioner after graduating from MIT. I was married, and my children were baptized, at St. Demetrios. I served on the parish’s Board of Administration during the 1990s and again in the 2000s during the challenging and exciting time when the parish decided to build a new sanctuary. I served on the Stewardship and Church Services Committees, led the Ways and Means Committee, and have run many parish events. My wife Jennifer is a member of the St. Demetrios Philoptochos and has served on its Board and Scholarship Committee.
What distinguishes you from other candidates?
Unlike the other candidates, I have real-world experience in job creation, technology, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education needed to help lead our recovery from today’s economic disaster. Currently, only 2% of the people in Congress have a background in technology—as a successful entrepreneur, I have founded and led several technology companies creating hundreds of jobs and over $250 million of salary for Massachusetts residents, which has also given me a strong understanding of the demands of the technology-driven economy we currently live in.
As an education activist and passionate believer in STEM education as a powerful tool to drive economic advancement and social mobility, I founded STEMatchMA–a non-profit that brings companies and schools together to make Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math opportunities more accessible to marginalized communities, which has already served more than 700 Boston Public Middle School students. I’ve been able to bring together leading Massachusetts financial, healthcare and technology companies to invest $500,000 in time and money to fund a workforce development effort at MassBay Community College to make cybersecurity jobs accessible to those who can’t afford four-year degrees.
What is your message to voters?
As a member of Congress, I would bring my unique experience, skills, and approach to help make the promise of the American Dream a reality for our district’s residents. With much-needed expertise in job creation, education activism, and tech innovation, and as the only candidate with real-world experience founding and leading technology companies, I have a strong understanding of the demands of the technology-driven economy and have demonstrated a commitment to creative and inclusive educational solutions.
How can someone get involved with your campaign?
By visiting www.chriszforma.com or visiting our social channels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.