Marcus’s MA04 Candidate Profile: Chris Zannetos [OPINION]
As a first-generation descendant of a poor Cyprus immigrant, Chris Zannetos credits his otherwise unlikely success to the traditional idea of the American Dream. After arriving with virtually nothing to his name, Zannetos' father was able to build a stable life for his family and provide opportunities for his children that were not made available to him.
Through his own hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, Zannetos followed in his father's footsteps to create opportunities not just for himself but for the working people of the Commonwealth. After earning an undergraduate and graduate education at MIT, Zannetos quickly became a vastly successful tech entrepreneur. He started three cybersecurity companies which to date have created over $250 million in salary for Massachusetts residents.
Aside from his private-sector experience, Zannetos has also engaged in nonprofit ventures that tackle important policy issues, namely a student's right to a fair and equal educational experience. Zannetos founded STEMatchMA, a non-profit that brings companies and schools together to make STEM opportunities more accessible to marginalized communities.
STEMatchMA has become a regional leader in STEM education access. Thus far they have reached over 700 Boston public middle schools and have convinced private sector companies to invest $500,000 to a workforce development program at MassBay Community College so that cybersecurity jobs are accessible to those who cannot afford a four-year degree.
Zannetos has also co-founded the BoSTEM advisory board for United Way, and is a board member for the Advanced Cyber Security Center, and the Mass High Tech Council. It is ventures such as these, among many others, that earned Zannetos his reputation for being one of the local tech industry’s most innovative and generous pioneers.
Why did you decide to run for Congress?
“I didn’t plan to run for Congress, I’m not a politician. But after going to a 'Meet the Candidates' forum in January, I didn’t see the experience and skills needed to address the issue at the root of so many of our country’s pressing problems. As a life-long resident of Massachusetts, I’ve tried to serve our community in one form or another since I graduated from MIT, whether as a youth soccer coach, a volunteer for food drives or the Boston Marathon, on the board of my church and other organizations, or as the founder of a non-profit (STEMatchMA) that brings companies together with schools to make STEM education more accessible to underserved people. We’re living in a technology-driven economy, yet only two percent of the members of Congress have a professional technology background. Now more than ever, we need people in Washington who have experience creating jobs in the 21st-century economy, that understand the technology and science that drives our world, and that work to bring people together regardless of their ideology to drive progress for the people.
Even before this pandemic, our country was in an economic crisis. We had a historically booming economy, but it only benefited the few. The technology revolution has delivered great economic benefits, but has also left so many behind and resulted in massive and growing income and opportunity inequality. And now nearly 50 percent of Americans don’t believe in the American Dream of the opportunity to do better than the generation before.
My father immigrated to the United States with $100 in his pocket and a scholarship to a
college that closed after his first semester. But with a lot of hard work, help from others, and the opportunity offered by our country, he and my mother built a great life for our family. I learned from them that we have a responsibility to our community as well as our family – an active dedication, responsibility, and accountability to others, to work for the common good.
This is what I’ve done in my business career. This is what I’ve done in my non-profit work. I believe that I have the experience and approach that are needed today to help our district dig out from this economic disaster. And although it is not the best time to step away from my business, I felt I needed to step forward to help ensure that my children and their generation don’t inherit a country in which the American Dream is achievable only by the few, and in which our politicians posture for partisan gain instead of serving the people.”
How has your campaign adapted to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Of course, the risks posed by the coronavirus and the necessary restrictions on our social interaction have impacted the campaign. We have had to focus on online interaction and come up with creative ways to engage the people of our district. As are many other campaigns, we are holding online town meetings to hear from voters. But we are also trying to focus on how we can help our fellow residents during these tough times.
We have started a series of webinars that are designed to help people access the opportunities of the tech-driven economy (New Paths to the American Dream) as well as understand how we can all dig out from this crisis (Ask the Experts). I’m an avid biker, often biking into my company’s office in Boston back when we were going into the office. So I’ve started a #TourThe4th initiative, biking through every town in the district to highlight each town’s special character, but importantly to highlight the small, family-owned businesses in each town to help people know that they are still open and need their support.”
What experiences and qualities do you have that separate yourself from the other candidates in the race?
“Unlike the other candidates, I have real-world experience in job creation and in creating company-school collaboration to promote economic and social mobility. As a successful entrepreneur, I have founded and led three technology companies creating hundreds of jobs and over $250 million of salary for Massachusetts residents. I’ve led these companies through good times and harsh recessions, which has given me a strong understanding of the demands of the technology-driven economy we currently live in. As an education activist and passionate believer in STEM education as a powerful tool to drive economic advancement, I founded STEMatchMA, a non-profit that brings companies and schools together to make Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math opportunities more accessible to marginalized communities, which has already served more than 700 Boston Public Middle School students. I've been able to bring together leading Massachusetts financial, healthcare and technology companies to invest $500,000 in time and money to fund a workforce development effort at MassBay Community College to make cybersecurity jobs accessible to those who can’t afford four-year degrees.
Especially today, I think we need people in Washington with a strong understanding of the technology-driven economy, experience in job creation, and possess the skills needed to build innovative approaches that make opportunity available to all.”
What do you think is the most important issue facing the country today and how do we address it?
“Our first focus must be the COVID-19 crisis and caring for and supporting those who are sick. As we are seeing, however, the economic impact is likely to last much, much longer and worsen the already unacceptable income and opportunity gap in our nation. We are pumping trillions of dollars in very necessary support for our people and the companies that support us and employ us, but we already had a trillion-dollar deficit from last year alone. Our wealthy need to step up to help us dig out of this hole, but that won’t be enough. We have to grow and make the benefits of our economy accessible to everyone, not just the few.
It is essential that we address the underlying issues that led to this inequality that were present prior to this crisis. Rather than trying in vain to bring back the jobs of the 19th and 20th centuries, we need to invest in our infrastructure, our educational system, and our people to make the American Dream attainable by everyone.
Our representatives in Washington need to put partisan posturing aside, and refocus on doing the hard work to build common ground to make these investments.”
What is one of your favorite features of MA04 District?
“I was born and raised in Massachusetts, went to college in Cambridge, and have lived within the MA04 district for over 20 years in Wellesley with my wife and our two children. I greatly enjoy riding my bike through the district, seeing the beautiful scenery and stopping at the local restaurants for something to eat (and maybe to get an ice cream cone at Wally’s in Auburndale).
But what I love most is that our district reflects the fact that we don’t actually live in a
“State”, we live in a “Commonwealth” that was created to serve the common good. We see this sense of community in our district in so many ways – how our towns come together to support and celebrate the Boston Marathon, the festivals throughout the district that celebrate our residents’ heritage, the great community organizations like Neighbor Brigade that selflessly serve others. We have a diverse population in our district, and although we come from different backgrounds, we’re a community. In these tough times, that’s more important than ever.”
To learn more about Zannetos' campaign visit chriszforma.com.
Marcus Ferro is an attorney practicing in New Bedford and a weekly contributor to The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.