CLEARWATER — During Thursday night's five-hour City Council meeting, city leaders voted on a wide range of issues spanning from a towering beach resort to dog-friendly dining.
But among the crowd of residents, attorneys and developers that filled the City Hall chambers, one person was notably missing: Christine Marketos-Cuomo, who is running for mayor. Busy with a meeting of the Laconian Society, she also chose not to watch the meeting online.
For Marketos-Cuomo, 63, that poses no problem. In the weeks before the Jan. 31 election, she has campaigned as a "fresh voice," "people person" and "$0 candidate" not bound to backdoor politics and the niches of City Hall.
A 30-year federal employee who once ran a Rhode Island travel agency, she is pitching her newcomer status as a strength in the race against Vice Mayor George Cretekos, an experienced politico.
Though that disconnection has served to estrange her from local civic groups, who criticize her public absences and difficulty to reach, Marketos-Cuomo says she has the ideas to overcome what she calls Cretekos' lack of leadership.
"He's in there now, he's been in there, and he hasn't made Clearwater a better place to live," Marketos-Cuomo said. "We're on a downward slope, and he hasn't done anything."
Born in Lowell, Mass., Marketos-Cuomo grew up in a Greek-American parochial school and joined the IRS fresh out of high school as a keypunch operator.
Most of her career was spent in federal offices, working as an assistant or secretary for the Federal Highway Administration, the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Her government ties led her to work as an unpaid host of public-access shows. In the 1980s, she also opened her own travel agency in Pawtucket, R.I., which she closed 10 years later.
In 2001, she moved to Clearwater from Providence, R.I., to work for the Tampa office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
She retired in 2008 after three decades in the federal government, she said, and retains top-secret clearance. She works part-time jobs for Randstad, a temporary-staffing agency, including as a recorder of special-magistrate hearings at the Pinellas County Courthouse.
Marketos-Cuomo, who married her husband, Giuseppe Cuomo, in 2002, is a grandmother of three. Her children — George, 41; Peter, 32; and Rosemarie, 31 — live in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
She is a registered Republican, like Cretekos, and she founded the Greek American Republican Society of Florida. She has helped campaign for George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis.
"This is America," she said. "We have the right to go across lines."
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Though Marketos-Cuomo has never engaged in the local political system, neither as a member of a volunteer board nor as a public speaker at City Hall, she says her career history gives her the experience needed to lead this city of 100,000.
She has called city projects like roundabouts and speed bumps a waste of taxpayer funding, and says she'd like to cut taxes for all local companies through a series of business incentives.
The rest of her platform is built on platitudes and obscurities: campaign ads say she supports "constitutional rights" and wants to "assist to revitalize the city center area."
Though some voters have questioned her seriousness as a candidate, Marketos-Cuomo says she's confident in her ability to lead.
When asked whether she had considered running for a City Council seat first, instead of mayor, she waved off the suggestion.
"I just feel that I can do this," Marketos-Cuomo said. "Anybody can be anything they want to be."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected] Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.