Clearwater voters have a clear choice in the Jan. 31 election for mayor: well-respected City Council member George Cretekos, who spent his career serving the public as a congressional aide; or elusive first-time politician Christine Marketos-Cuomo, who has never before shown a formal interest in City Hall. Cretekos, the current vice mayor, is best qualified to lead Tampa Bay's third-largest city.
For the past eight years, Clearwater has benefited from the steady hand of Mayor Frank Hibbard, who is term-limited. Hibbard was elected to the nonpartisan post in the midst of the last real estate boom and oversaw impressive infrastructure investments in downtown Clearwater and on the beach. But his second term has been marked by budget cuts amid the recession and stalled redevelopment of downtown due to the condominium glut. His successor can expect more of the same, given Florida's sluggish recovery and laws limiting how fast the city's property tax receipts can rebound. The next mayor's task will be to find opportunity where possible.
Affable and approachable, Cretekos, 64, built a solid reputation in three decades working in Pinellas County as an aide for Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. It was a job steeped in constituent service more than partisanship. He is well versed in the vagaries of bureaucracy and, as a retired aide to a congressman, in how to get government to work in spite of it.
On the council, Cretekos has shown a penchant for fiscal stewardship and key reinvestment. But he's also shown independence, from lobbying unsuccessfully against the addition of red-light cameras to succeeding in rescinding a silly, outdated ordinance that barred the throwing of balls in parks or on the city's signature beaches.
Cretekos pledges to work with the Church of Scientology, but also hold it to account as downtown's largest property owner. He supported, for example, the recent citizen code enforcement board's correct decision to require the church to pay building code fines after progress stalled for years on a downtown facility. Cretekos has also pushed for the city to look beyond tourism to add jobs, and promises more of the same as mayor.
Cretekos acknowledges he lacks the stage presence of Hibbard, who has used his perch to elevate Clearwater's interests throughout the region. But Cretekos is nonetheless well known across Tampa Bay and has the potential to further the city's interests on issues like transit and the Tampa Bay Rays. Like his former boss, Rep. Young, Cretekos clearly understands that a stronger Tampa Bay will also mean a stronger Clearwater.
Oddly, the Jan. 31 election is the first time Cretekos has actually faced opposition at the ballot box. He was unopposed when he ran for council the first time in a 2007 special election for a vacated seat, a year after retiring from Young's office. He was also unopposed in his 2008 re-election. But even in this race, Cretekos has drawn only lackluster competition, which is unfortunate. Competitive campaigns tend to be more revealing for voters.
Marketos-Cuomo, 63, a newcomer on the scene, is well-meaning, but she appears to be naive as to the complexity of city government. A retired federal worker, she has shown no formal interest in City Hall until now and has failed to launch a broad campaign beyond vague statements that she wants to help small businesses.
In the Jan. 31 election for Clearwater mayor, the Times recommends George Cretekos.