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Astoria pols to join Bloomberg on sojourn to Greece

Two Astoria politicians are traveling to Greece with Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week in the city’s first-ever diplomatic visit to the Mediterranean nation.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) were expected to arrive Thursday morning in Athens, where Bloomberg will serve as the keynote speaker at the 2002 Mayors of the World Summit.

Vallone and Gianaris will remain in Greece while Bloomberg flies Saturday to Turkey, and all three are slated to return Sunday to New York. They are traveling on Bloomberg’s corporate jet.

“My understanding is it’s the first official visit of a city mayor to Greece that’s ever happened,” Gianaris said Tuesday as he prepared for his trip. “I’m planning to take a message of goodwill and thanks. The Greek government has actually done great things in terms of helping New York recover form last year’s attack.”

New York City boasts the largest community of Greeks outside of Greece itself, many of whom live in Astoria, a slice of Athens where most streets are lined with Greek social clubs and cafés.

“I think it’s important that we address issues of concern to the Greek community, and I also want to take this opportunity to meet with their public safety officials and discuss antiterrorism efforts in both cities,” said Vallone, who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Vallone said a key issue he plans to address during the visit is Turkey’s continued occupation of the island of Cyprus. The City Council has passed resolutions every year condemning Turkey’s 1974 invasion and demanding their departure from the island.

Their packed schedules will feature meetings with a host of Greek officials, including Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos, Hellenic Republic President Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Constantine Simitis and Education Minister Petros Efthymiou.

They also plan to tour the facilities where the 2004 Summer Olympic Games will be held to get a taste of what New York may expect if it wins its bid to host the 2012 games. Not only would the swimming events be held at Astoria Park, but the city’s plans also call for the Olympic Village to go up in Hunter’s Point on the Queens West development site.

“I’m curious to talk to them about how they handled the placement of the Olympic Village, learn from their experience and make sure if we go forward here it’s done in the best way possible,” said Gianaris, whose parents are from Greece.

Although Vallone or Gianaris have both visited Greece before, years have passed since their last trips there.

“Having spent my entire life in Astoria and coming from a town in Sicily where there are more Greek ruins than anywhere in the world, I consider myself as familiar with the Greek culture as anyone,” Vallone said. “But a trip to Athens can only help to give me even more insight.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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