George Maragos was 8 years old when he immigrated to the US with his family from Greece. Almost six decades later, Mr. Maragos is a successful entrepreneur, and a humble public servant who enjoys recognition and respect amongst Nassau County, LI’s, burgeoning immigrant and minority communities. Having served the county’s Comptroller for the past eight years, he is now aiming to become the county’s Chief Executive. He is competing against Nassau Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) and State Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). The Nassau County’s Democratic committee has thrown its weight behind Curren in the three-way race for this September’s Democratic primaries.
Mr. Maragos may not enjoy the support of Nassau County’s Democratic establishment, but he has launched a proactive grass-root movement. May it be an Indian community event, or a Haitian, African, Latino or Pakistani community gatherings, Maragos seems to be an emerging favorite guest of honor. But why Long island’s immigrants are developing such liking for Comptroller Maragos in this county election season? His former Republican background aside (As recently as September, he was a Republican), his pleasing, humble personality, a progressive agenda and inclusive approach that respects diversity and equality, it is Maragos’ own immigrant credentials that may be endearing him to some immigrants.
“Like you, I am also an immigrant,” Maragos told a small gathering of Long Island’s tiny Pashtoon community. The gathering, a reception, was organized by Khyber Society, a cultural organization of Pashtoon Americans, at a restaurant in West Hempstead on April 22. “I am not here to take your money through fundraising,” he told an attentive audience. “Rather I need your trust and vote which is much more important than money.” Maragos is reportedly financing his own campaign.
Pashtoons are an ethnic group who inhabit the north western parts of Pakistan and much of Afghanistan. The community’s population has been steadily growing over the past decades, with large concentration in New York City, where there are over 12,000 Pashtuns, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area, Virginia, Los Angeles, Georgia and Oregon. According to the 2010 Census, 15,788 individuals identified Pashto as their first language spoken at home. But many Pashtoon community leaders insist that America’s Pashtoon population may be as high as 70,000. The Afghan Pashtoon American population is bigger than their Pakistani cousins.
Mr. Maragos spoke in detail of his vision for Nassau County, which he wants to make as a business hub with world-class health facilities. He agreed with the event moderator Mian Tawhid Ullah’s remarks that high taxes were a burden on Nassau County’s middle class, and said if elected, he will make sure taxes were brought to affordable range for the many struggling home owners.
With an annual budget of 3 billion dollars, and a population of more than 1.3 million, Nassau is considered one of the most affluent counties in the US. In 2012, Forbes magazine, in an article based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, reported Nassau County was one of the highest income counties in the United States and the most affluent in the state of New York, comprising four of the nation’s top ten towns by median income. It also ranks as the most expensive county in America.
“I agree that the taxes are very high here,” Mr Maragos said, adding that he had a plan to make the property tax more affordable while keeping the county’s budget balanced. Comptroller Maragos released a study in 2014 regarding the changing demographics of the county. The study proposed a new economic vision for Nassau which, if implemented, claimed would revitalize the economy by drawing on the County’s natural advantages to become the Health and Wellness center of the world. Comptroller Maragos proposed that Nassau County should become a place where people would “want to come to receive the best medical treatments and where the next generation of miracle medicines would be discovered.” Mr. Maragos urged greater focused investments in innovation, research and development, transportation infrastructure and IT to achieve this economic vision. His vision is now part of his election agenda.
He also said under his administration, the ratio of county contracts to Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) had doubled from7 to 14 percent. “My aim will be to increase this ratio to 20% and even more, to truly reflect the county’s diversity.” Many of Pashtoon voters present at the event promised to vote for Mr. Maragos in September. “I am registered as an independent, but I will now switch to the Democratic Party,” said Mian, a professional banker, who is also vice president of the Khyber Society.
According to one of Society’s founders Taj Akbar Khan, the Society was launched about 20 years ago “to support the community in difficult times and to help preserve their culture”. It also helps transfer the dead bodies to Pakistan of those whose family wishes to bury their dead in Pakistan.
State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) who also joined the event, in her brief remarks, assured the participants that the city legislators were cognizant of the increasing incidents of hate crimes. She advised the immigrant communities to report hate incidents when and wherever they may occur. “Reporting such incidents is critical because it will show the emerging trends.” She asked immigrants to take advantage of the numerous city and state resources available to immigrants.
Mr. Maragos also introduced Carl DeHaney Jr., a community services representative in the county’s Department of Human Services, who is running for county clerk. Mr. Maragos recently announced that he will run candidates for clerk and comptroller on his own ticket. The reception was also addressed by Society’s President Bahadar Ali Shah and patron Taj Akbar Khan.
The event was followed by a musical evening in which Society’s vice president Mian and his friends entertained the guests with their Rabab, harmonium and Tabla skills.
Amateur music enthusiasts play Rabab and Tabla at Khyber Society’s reception
in Long Island, New York, on April 22.
Khyber Society Vice President Mian Tawhid Ullah plays Rabab, while his amateur
music enthusiast friends show their mastery of harmonium and Tabla and singing
skills at Khyber Society’s reception in Hempstead, Long Island, on April 22.