CLEARWATER — The current race for Clearwater mayor has always been cast as a David-and-Goliath contest between a well-known candidate and an underdog. But campaign finance reports released Friday make it clear just how wide a gap there is.
The lesser-known candidate, political newcomer Christine Marketos-Cuomo, has raised about $1,300 from supporters. Her opponent George Cretekos has raised $62,680 — about 50 times more — from his supporters. That has enabled him to blanket Clearwater with yard signs and political mailers.
The election is Tuesday. Clearwater voters will choose their next mayor and will vote on three city referendum questions.
"I don't know why my opponent is raising so much money. I don't know what he needs it for," said Marketos-Cuomo, 63, a retired federal worker. "I'm out here campaigning. I don't go around and ask people in businesses for money. I just listen to their concerns and problems."
Cretekos, 64, a City Council member and former congressional aide for U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, sees his fundraising differently. "It just shows the support and respect that I have in the community," he said. The list of his backers reads like a "who's who" of the politically active in Clearwater.
The new campaign finance reports tallied up donations to both candidates through Thursday.
According to those reports, Marketos-Cuomo has a campaign war chest of $2,365. About half of that, $1,035, was money she loaned herself, and $1,330 was donated by six supporters — three Clearwater residents, one Oldsmar resident, a Clearwater deli on U.S. 19, and Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg.
According to his report, Cretekos' campaign has raised $62,680 and has spent about $30,000 on expenses like signs, printing and postage for fliers. Cretekos said any campaign funds that aren't used before Tuesday's election will be returned to donors.
Influential locals like attorney Ed Armstrong, real estate executive Lee Arnold and restaurateur Frank Chivas contributed the maximum $500 each to Cretekos' campaign. So did the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Cretekos also received donations from former Mayor Brian Aungst, Hooters founder Ed Droste, Palm Pavilion owner Ken Hamilton, construction executive Alan Bomstein and former Tampa Bay Rays owner Vince Naimoli. He got contributions from Sand Key activists JoEllen Farnham and Cynthia Remley, Clearwater Beach activists Jerry Murphy and David Little, and mainland neighborhood activists Isay Gulley, Shelley Kuroghlian and Howard Warshauer. Campaign checks came from retirees, Realtors, lawyers and business people.
Money can make a big difference in Clearwater elections, partly because more people are voting by mail before Election Day and candidates must reach mail voters with advertising and information weeks before the election.
In the last Clearwater municipal election, in 2010, the two best-funded candidates won two City Council seats. Paul Gibson and Bill Jonson beat out political newcomers who were running low-budget, grass roots campaigns.
Gibson, the only incumbent that year, raised $12,300, several times as much as his challenger. Jonson, a former councilman, raised about $20,000 — three times as much as his three rivals combined.
In 2010, nearly three-fourths of Clearwater's roughly 8,000 votes came from mail-in ballots. Both winners, the only candidates who could afford to mail out political fliers, performed better in the mail ballots than they did among Election Day voters.
So far this year, 9,767 Clearwater residents have voted by mail in advance of Tuesday's election. They're either voting in the mayor's race or the Republican presidential primary or both. So far, turnout is about 15 percent, said Nancy Whitlock, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.