CLEARWATER — It's not a bad deal. For a $300 filing fee, you get a $20,000 salary, an audience of 100,000, and a place at the head of City Hall.
So why are so few people running for City Council? With a little more than a week left to qualify, only four candidates have filed to run for three open seats. It's possible the city won't have an election at all.
Hopefuls can still file and qualify for the Jan. 31 election, but time is running out: They must designate a treasurer, pay a filing fee and submit 250 signed petitions by Nov. 18.
So far, only one candidate — Vice Mayor George Cretekos, running for mayor — has qualified. Political newcomers Christine Marketos-Cuomo, running for mayor, and Doreen DiPolito and Jay Polglaze, running for the other open seats, say they intend to make the deadline.
Still, the small showing of interest has led some to ask where all the candidates have gone. This election — in which Cretekos, Mayor Frank Hibbard and council member John Doran are vacating their seats on the five-member council — could drastically change the direction of the council and the city for years to come.
"I don't know (why few are running). I wish I did know," said Hibbard, who is leaving because of term limits. "It's not healthy to not have races. The exchange of ideas in debates is a healthy process."
Theories abound. The job demands long hours, offers low pay ($23,000 for the mayor, $19,000 for members), opens your life to public scrutiny and requires knowledge of humdrum topics like utility easements. This economy has served to drain even more of the fun out of home rule: Think cutting budgets, not ribbons.
That hasn't stopped candidates in recent years from joining the ballot. Last year's competitive election saw six candidates fight for two council seats, won by Bill Jonson and Paul Gibson. In 2008, Hibbard sparred with former Mayor Rita Garvey, in an election with a voter turnout of nearly 40 percent.
Candidates think the lack of competition could be a sign of voter indifference. Residents, Polglaze said, "have thrown their hands in the air." If he is elected, he said, "our challenge is going to be to change that apathy."
Marketos-Cuomo, 63, worked for 30 years with the federal government and retired in 2008 from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
DiPolito, 45, a licensed general contractor, has served on the city's Community Development Board for six years. She owns D-Mar General Contracting, a local commercial firm.
Polglaze, 54, a longtime U.S. Postal Service employee, is a member of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition. He helped organize a campaign to install a traffic calming program in his neighborhood at Grandview Terrace.
DiPolito and Polglaze would easily slide onto the council if they qualify without opposition. If Marketos-Cuomo qualifies, she would face an established competitor in Cretekos, who announced his intention to run in February.
She also would be his first opponent. Cretekos, 64, joined the council to finish an outgoing member's term in 2007. He was re-elected without opposition the next year.
However, if Marketos-Cuomo does not qualify in time, the election will likely be canceled. Cretekos said that possibility, and the lack of local candidacy fervor, could come from satisfaction with the city's status quo.
"There's a time commitment and, I guess, a lack of interest," Cretekos said. "Or maybe people are satisfied with the leadership they think I will provide, and they don't want to challenge me."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.