Christos P. Panagopoulous, Greece’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at Mayor Mike Pantelides’ inauguration. Pantelides is of Greek and Cypriot heritage.
Pantelides Royal Restaurant
From left, Jimmy Walker, a cook at the Royal Restaurant since 1932; owner Savvas “Sam” Pantelides, the grandfather of Mayor Mike Pantelides; and Fay Mason, a waitress since 1945, look over old menus in a photograph from 1976.
Pantelides Royal Restaurant
Andre “Butch” Pantelides, an uncle of Mayor Mike Pantelides, places a “Closed” sign in the window for the last time as the Royal Restaurant at 23 West St. shut its doors for good in 1976.
Theano Panos Platt, a first-generation U.S. citizen, isn’t a blood relative of the new Annapolis mayor. But when election officials counted the final ballots and the tally favored Mike Pantelides, it was as if her own son had won.
Platt said she cried tears of joy “like at the birth of a child.” Her elation doubled because she knew the occasion came on his saint’s name day.
During Pantelides’ inauguration Monday, supporters provided commentary on Twitter. One hashtag may have said it best: #Annacropolis.
And when the new mayor had to choose where to go after taking the oath, it was only fitting to have a “small gathering of friends and family” — about 50 people — for a meal of lamb, potatoes and Greek pastries at the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, the focal point of the local Greek-American community.
After a nail-biter election won by a 30-year-old political newcomer, city residents of Greek extraction are claiming Pantelides’ win as their own.
Many who share Pantelides’ roots said the campaign’s hard work and integrity reflected the new mayor’s Greek and Cypriot lineage.
That he’s two generations removed from the motherland but still wears his heritage proudly is a hopeful sign to them, not just for the city, but for the welfare of Annapolis’ Greek community.
A small band
Just 0.5 percent of Annapolis’ population — about 180 people — claims Greek ancestry, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Approximately 450 families are congregants at the Greek Orthodox church, which draws from Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties and the Eastern Shore.
The Census estimated that Anne Arundel County has 5,000 residents of Greek extraction, accounting for a little under 1 percent of the population.
The community is tied by family, faith and a common language, often still spoken in bits and pieces at home.
They’re a close-knit ethnic and religious group that still sends their children to Greek Orthodox dances, youth socials and basketball tournaments in the hope they’ll find lifelong friendships and romantic attachments there.
Harriet Adam, whose parents and grandparents are Greek, said all the Greek kids who grew up with her in Annapolis thought they were “cousins,” even if they weren’t.
Much of the Greek community came to Annapolis in the ’30s and ’40s. Relatives or friends already in the United States sponsored immigrants.
They planted roots in communities where they had connections, opening businesses and eventually raising enough funds to build a Greek Orthodox church downtown on Constitution Avenue.
At one point, naturalized Greek-Americans operated close to two dozen restaurants in Annapolis.
Pantelides’ grandfather, Savvas “Sam” Pantelides, opened the Royal Restaurant on West Street, where the BB&T Bank is today, after immigrating from Cyprus in the 1940s.
A newspaper ad for the restaurant showcased Sam’s wit. In 260 words, he described his philosophy of life, which he believed was full of contradictions and misunderstandings:
“If he is in politics, he is a grafter and a crook; if he is out of politics, you can’t place him because he is an undesirable citizen … Life is a funny road, but we all like to travel it just the same.”
Pantelides filled last week’s inauguration with signs of his Greek heritage, making it one of the most unusual ceremonies in memory.
His priest, the Rev. Kosmas Karavellas, gave the invocation. Two prominent dignitaries — Greece’s ambassador to the United States and the consul for the Cypriot embassy — delivered speeches.
It was an appropriate epilogue for a campaign that drew donations from friends and extended family of Greek heritage throughout the region. When Pantelides won, Karavellas said, Greek parishes nationwide contacted his church with congratulations.
A line in the new mayor’s speech — a pledge to make Annapolis again the “Athens of the East” — went viral online.
The pride transcended party lines. U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Baltimore County Democrat whose district includes Annapolis, supported incumbent Mayor Josh Cohen in the election. But he called Pantelides the night before the election to say he looked forward to working with him if he won.
On Monday, Sarbanes was no longer a partisan. He was Pantelides’ Greek brother.
“With this audience, I probably would have preferred to be honored as Ioannis Sarbanes,” he said, using the Greek version of his name.
A long tradition
In taking public office, Pantelides is following a tradition old enough to make Annapolis look newfangled.
“Greece is recognized as the birthplace of democracy. The philosophers that came from that country — there’s so much that started there,” said Steve Samaras, an Annapolis jeweler who is of Greek heritage.
“Even to this day, we feel that sense of pride, especially children that have been raised in Greek households,” Samaras said.
The word “democracy” comes from the Greek word demos, which means “commoners,” and kratos, meaning “rule.”
Platt said Greek culture and politics go hand-in-hand because of the emphasis on public service and viewing one’s community as a family.
“You can’t walk into a Greek restaurant or a cafe or a village somewhere and not hear the rumblings of the politics going on, whether it’s in the next town over or the next country. Politics has always been an engaging topic,” she said.
In his new office at City Hall last week, Pantelides looked around at the blank walls, considering how to decorate. The coffee table had a single book in the center — one on Cyprus.
“I should Greek the place up a little bit,” he said. “We’ll Greek it up somehow.”
He can’t speak the language fluently, but understands some of it. And he has picked up other cultural traits.
“If there’s a room full of Greek people, you have to talk over another person to get your point heard,” Pantelides said. “But I don’t think it’s come up in department meetings yet.”
Pantelides isn’t Annapolis’ first Greek-American chief executive. John Apostol was mayor from 1973 to 1981.
Apostol’s campaign was another exciting time for the local Greek community, remembered Samaras, who owns Zachary’s Jewelers at the foot of Main Street.
His grandparents, who were Greek immigrants, were “worker bees” for the campaign, along with Pantelides’ father, John Pantelides. They held signs and made phone calls.
“I felt a very strong sense of my roots,” Samaras said.