CLEARWATER — The city's mayoral hopefuls squared off for the first time Wednesday night at a Clearwater Beach candidate forum.
The forum saw mayoral candidates George Cretekos and Christine Marketos-Cuomo, and City Council members-elect Doreen DiPolito and Jay Polglaze, fielding residents' questions on code issues, city spending and their long-range vision for the beach.
It also gave Marketos-Cuomo, a virtual unknown who has not been involved in city government affairs, a chance to cast herself as a "fresh voice" in City Hall and defend herself against criticism that she is inexperienced and has been a no-show at previous candidate forums.
"I'm not a politician," Marketos-Cuomo told the crowd at the beach Library and Recreation Complex. "I'm a person, just like you."
She also offered Wednesday a series of explanations, some of them conflicting, for her forum absences and her failure to respond to interview requests from endorsement groups. She said she was either not invited, was asked too late or was busy visiting residents at an assisted living facility.
As the incumbent, Cretekos was questioned about city policies such as Beach by Design, the city's long-term development plan for Clearwater Beach, and subsidies for the Outback Bowl's activities on the beach.
Cretekos joined the council in 2007.
Marketos-Cuomo said she supports local businesses and speaking with residents, but she rarely specified how.
At one point, she asked why the city had not held more "town council" meetings, which led Cretekos to pounce.
"We have 'town council' meetings. We have them every two weeks," Cretekos said. "You just have to attend."
The election is Jan. 31.
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.