While many college politicos are stumping for next month's Undergraduate Council elections or working on the presidential campaigns, one Harvard student has larger plans in mind.
Eliot House resident Costas Panagopoulos '94, a Republican from Dracut, Mass., is competing for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
"It all came as a big surprise," said Panagopoulos, 20. "I was studying for finals last year when the Republican party chair from Dracut called to ask me to run for the office."
Panagopoulos said he decided to represent his party in the 17th Middlesex district, which includes Dracut and part of Lowell, only after he was encouraged repeatedly by State Sen. Nancy E. Achan Sullivan '81.
Panagopoulos, a government concentrator, said Sullivan was a "true inspiration" for him.
And Sullivan, who hails from the first Middlesex district, returned the young politician's praise.
"Costas demonstrates tremendous leadership and speaking abilities, and he has a clear understanding of the issues as shown by his platform," Sullivan said. "He is definitely the most impressive young Republican in the state today."
Panagopoulos, who as a high school student wrote a book of advice for student leaders, set up his campaign headquarters in Dracut after
While Panagopoulos has gained a reputationamong many as a charismatic, up-and-coming leader,he will face tough demographic challenges.
He campaigned hard all summer, he said, becausehe knows there are at least four times as manyregistered Democrats as there are Republicans inhis district.
But Panagopoulos, who lost a bid for Dracut'sschool committee during his first year at Harvard,said he believes he will be able to overcome thatmargin because about half of the voters in thedistrict are independent.
He also said that the number of Republicans inhis district has grown, though slowly, over thelast five years. In the last election for the sameoffice, his current Democratic opponent, 10-yearincumbent John F. Cox, slipped through with a51-49 victory, he said.
Claudet Houle, Panagopoulos' campaign chair,said that Cox "is probably laughing at us," sincePanagopoulos is only 20 years old and without muchexperience.
"But Costas is mature beyond his years, like anolder person imprisoned in a younger body," saidHoule, who is also the vice chair of Dracut'sRepublican party.
Cox, however, said he and his staff "feel veryconfident" about beating Panagopoulos in theupcoming election. "We're going to run thiscampaign as we normally have in previous years byworking hard and running on our record," Cox said.
"[Panagopoulos] has got a lot of problems, asall he's done so far is attack me," Cox said."He's weak on the issues and he doesn't offer anysolutions."
But when both candidates were asked about theirplans to improve the district, Cox mainly referredto past accomplishments while Panagopoulosoutlined an agenda.
"I've been a very effective leader the past tenyears," Cox said, proceeding to describe hisefforts to improve the water system and roads, andto preserve open space.
While Panagopoulos accused Cox of "doingnothing to support" a push for more jobs in adistrict "devastated by the recession," theincumbent said he has worked to bolster theeconomy through such actions as amending thestate's "blue laws."
"I've made some progress, but the problem iseverywhere," Cox said. "It's not unique to thisdistrict, and for someone to criticize me becauseof it is ridiculous."
To address the lack of jobs, Panagopoulos saidhe supports a cut in the capital gains tax and asystem of tax credits that would reward companiesfor investment and the creation of jobs.
"Now we have to put people back to work," hesaid. "The government has to step in and createthe jobs."
Panagopoulos said he would work on obtainingmore local aid, which he said has decreased underCox's leadership.
The Republican said he also advocates limitingpublic officials to four two-year terms--a measurewhich Cox recently voted against thoughPanagopoulos charges that Cox pledged to supportit in the last election.
Cox, however, said he never made such apromise. "I said that I would only support such ameasure if all offices from governor down toschool committee were to have the same limits. Butthe plan that I voted against only dealt withterms in Congress," he said.
At Harvard, Panagopoulos has worked on ModelUnited Nations and served on the HarvardFoundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.In Eliot House, he has acted as an entrywayrepresentative on the house committee.
"It's great that he's taking the initiative toget into politics early," said Isidio Fernandez'93, who lives in Eliot. "He's one of those whoparticipates in the house but doesn't go aroundboasting it."
Robin L. Mitchell '94, another Eliot Houseresident, said she was surprised to hear that herclassmate was running for state office.
"It's shocking because I think of peoplerunning for state representative to be a lotolder," Mitchell said.
If elected, Panagopoulos said he will finishthe fall term before "taking some time off."
But in the long run, he said, he is "notlooking to a career in politics."
"I'm just working on this election," he said
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