Open polis: New Yorker runs for Athenian office
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Jarvis's celebrity status was one reason mayoral candidate Christos Papoutsis signed her to his ticket, his spokesman Kritolaos Vasilikopoulos concedes. But he adds that the Socialist party also sees her as someone who can help loosen prejudices here.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Jarvis has been involved with volunteer and community programs to help foreigners, curb racism, and raise awareness about issues such as domestic violence and the needs of people with disabilities topics rarely addressed in Greece.
"Athenian society must accept that we are going through a period of change. In the future Athenians will have to get used to the fact that we all have to live here, that we have to start to be a kind of melting pot," said Mr. Vasilikopoulos. "Yvette can help us do that."
The "melting pot" idea has been slow in coming to Greece. After a long delay, last year the government finally began a drive to legalize immigrants living here for years without residence permits. But that effort has now been put on the back burner, mired by conflicting laws, understaffed offices, and processing delays.
Meanwhile, border controls have been stepped up, as have calls for arrests of illegal migrants. The government tripled police officers assigned to randomly stop and check people for residence permits. Heavily armed police patrol most major corners in poorer areas of the city, which Jarvis and other politicians fear are starting to become "migrant ghettos."
Jarvis says she has heard disturbing stories of how little racial and cultural diversity is accepted here. She recalled talking to African nurses who applied for jobs at an Athens hospital but were told, "You're too black, you'll scare the patients." Muslim women have been told their children couldn't register for school unless they changed their religion.
"There's a big need for communication between the municipality, the state, and these people I can give that," she says.
Jarvis wants to promote understanding through language classes, cultural centers, and multicultural programs in schools. Those ideas give hope to new arrivals like Moavia Ahmed, an immigrant from Sudan and a leader of the Athens' migrant community.
"She knows about the problems we have, the problems with the new laws," Mr. Ahmed says. "As immigrants in Greece, we don't have the right to vote. But her presence inside the municipality of Athens will be like a channel for us. She will make our voice heard."
But Jarvis's detractors say that her candidacy is mostly about celebrity. "The immigration card is not what's giving her the winning profile what's giving her the winning profile is that she's a foreigner, that she's on television," says political analyst Spiros Rizopoulos, who runs a private consulting firm. Even so, he says, "It's still a step forward for the country to have a non-Greek running for office. Greece has to get used to the idea."
Jarvis is not the only immigrant seeking office on Oct. 13. Other candidates include a Pole and two Palestinians, also seeking seats on the city council.