CLEARWATER — Voters elected George Cretekos as Clearwater's new mayor Tuesday in a landslide.
Cretekos, a vice mayor who joined the City Council in 2007, won 71 percent of the vote against opponent Christine Marketos-Cuomo, a retired federal employee who was never seen at a city meeting. Cretekos got 12,000 votes, more than double Marketos-Cuomo, and outspent her in campaigning 50 to 1.
"I'm honored, I'm humbled, I'm overwhelmed," Cretekos said Tuesday night at his Island Way Grill election party on Island Estates. "It's hard to believe a boy from Tarpon Springs has become the mayor of Clearwater."
Cretekos, 65, will succeed term-limited Mayor Frank Hibbard, a Morgan Stanley Smith Barney senior vice president who became mayor in 2005. Elected to the council in 2002, Hibbard became the city's second-longest-serving politician and Clearwater's outspoken voice across Tampa Bay.
Political newcomers Doreen DiPolito and Jay Polglaze, who ran unopposed, will be sworn in alongside Cretekos on Feb. 13, filling the City Council seats of Cretekos and term-limited member John Doran.
Voters also swatted down a referendum that would have extended council term limits from two four-year terms to three. They also rejected a scheduling change for the volunteer Charter Review Committee and approved a referendum requiring the city to publicize when its annual audit is released.
Marketos-Cuomo, 63, said she had no regrets about the race, adding that she had reached a lot of people as she campaigned across the city.
"This hand shook thousands of hands," Marketos-Cuomo said Tuesday night at the Laconian Center, a Greek social hall. "I hope George listens to the people, because there were a lot of concerns."
More than 17,000 voted in Clearwater — about 25 percent of the electorate — most of them by mail. The 11,000 mail ballots totaled more than all the votes filed in the city's 2010 election, during which two council seats were decided by only 13 percent of voters.
Cretekos raised more than $60,000 while Marketos-Cuomo raised $2,000, half of which she paid herself. While Marketos-Cuomo spent almost all she raised, Cretekos spent about $30,000 — a payment of about 40 cents a vote.
A Tarpon Springs native who hocked curios as a boy near the famous Sponge Docks, Cretekos joined the Capitol Hill staff of Rep. C.W. Bill Young in 1970, fresh out of graduate school. He moved to Clearwater in 1976, where he became Young's chief aide, and retired here, after 36 years on Young's staff, in 2006.
Cretekos joined the council in 2007 and was re-elected in 2008, but his race against Marketos-Cuomo was the first time he faced competition. Cretekos said he visited 3,000 homes door-to-door during his campaign, and his signs peppered the yards of some of the city's most notable residents.
In the days before the election, Cretekos' campaign dispatched robo-calls of his 9-year-old godson, Zachary Dermody, applauding Cretekos for showing "good old-fashioned common sense."
Marketos-Cuomo campaigned as the fresh-faced underdog, a "people person" with 30 years of experience as an executive assistant in the federal government. But after skipping an influential neighborhood forum and accusing Cretekos' supporters, during another forum, of stealing her campaign signs, many questioned her viability as a serious candidate.
Asked whether she would run again for office, Marketos-Cuomo smirked and shrugged her shoulders.
"Who knows?" Marketos-Cuomo said. "It's whatever God wants."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.