Ask the Locals: Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos

click to enlarge The mayor in his office. - Kevin Tighe
Kevin Tighe
The mayor in his office.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos is the very definition of a local boy made good — and perhaps more to the point, a local boy with a penchant for doing good: He served as a missionary in Indonesia for the Greek Orthodox church, and has been a longtime courier in the National Marrow Transplant Program and a regular blood donor. But it’s his life in politics through which he’s made his most public mark. Born and raised in Tarpon Springs, with degrees in political science and public administration from Davidson College and the University of Pittsburgh, he was a longtime legislative aide to Congressman W.T. “Bill” Young before being elected to Clearwater City Council in 2007 and winning his bid to be mayor in 2012. Cretekos, 68, has lived on Sand Key with his wife, Carolyn, since 1976. This year has been a particularly eventful one for the mayor; 2015 is Clearwater’s centennial (for which he accepted a plaque at this year’s Best of the Bay anniversary celebration), and he has been instrumental in making sure the birthday party lasts all year long. 

On his dapper sartorial style: “I went to a fundraiser where you had to wear a bowtie, so I started wearing them here and there. My problem is mine always go crooked.”

What do people not know about Clearwater? “Everybody thinks of Clearwater as its beach, but we have little neighborhoods where people are involved in activities all year long. One of my favorite spots is an area called MOCCASIN LAKE NATURE PARK just off 19 — drive by it and you don’t even know that it’s there.”

His city is big, but not that big: “Clearwater Beach and Sand Key are all part of Clearwater, but it isn’t as big as Tampa or St. Petersburg. We don’t have a big business identity or company headquarters, but lots of small entrepreneurial companies that are just getting started, especially in downtown. We’re completing a plan for the US 19 corridor that we hope will encourage companies to locate in key intersections there.”

Tourism’s still the biggest deal : “In all honesty tourism is Clearwater’s #1 industry — we’re the largest provider of bed tax for the entire county.”

But getting there isn’t half the fun:  “What people in St. Pete don’t realize is that sometimes it takes longer for people in the northern part of the county to get to St. Pete than it does to get to Tampa [because of the] lack of good interstate highways north and south. When I was a kid growing up in Tarpon we could make it from Tarpon to US 19 in 30 minutes. There were three stoplights.”

Beach vs. downtown: “The City of Clearwater invested $30 million on the BEACH WALK , which brought us the first two four- and five-star resorts in Pinellas in 40 years [ SANDPEARL RESORT , HYATT REGENCY ] and Dr. Patel’s project [the $175 million Wyndham Grand Resort]. The city made a similar type investment in downtown, with streetscaping, the new library, boatslips, the CAPITOL THEATRE . [But] we haven’t gotten the private sector to show the same interest in downtown yet. I look at the Capitol — they sell out practically every show. But trying to get a restaurant to open there has been difficult.”

There’s that big church: “There are people who don’t want to come into downtown because of the Church of Scientology. But I can also tell you people in COS live in Clearwater and care about this city as much as anybody — and the church is one of the city’s biggest taxpayers.”

But there are places to eat downtown if you know where to look: “God bless TONY’S PIZZERIA — he’s done a fantastic job. There is a Thai restaurant, CHIANG MAI THAI , one of the best in the area. It’s been there for at least 20 years — but it’s under everybody’s radar.”

More local faves:GREEKTOWN GRILLE — it’s pretty close to my family’s cooking. And you can’t beat FRENCHY’S or the PALM PAVILION for the casual beach experience. My wife and I are partial to RUSTY’S BISTRO at SHERATON SAND KEY because we had our wedding reception there.”

Still, home cooking’s the best: “Because I’m of Greek descent, no one can cook as good as your mom.”

Oh baby, Ruth:RUTH ECKERD HALL for a small theater is one of the best in the country. I remember years ago going to see Kenny G [there]. He walked through the audience playing his saxophone. Having been a sax player in the Tarpon High band, I thought, ‘Omigosh I never sounded even close to that. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I played the saxophone.”

He lives on Sand Key but… “I have no tan. You wouldn’t know I was a native.”

He was a Greek Orthodox altar boy, but… He never dove for the cross during the annual Epiphany celebration. “I was head of the altar boys and didn’t like cold water. I figured I’d get the same blessing standing next to [the archbishop] as I would dripping with water.”

On celebrating the centennial: “The one thing I told colleagues and council was, I didn’t want to have just one event, I wanted to have events all year long — a parade, baseball games, concerts, a fishing tournament…

What’s changed in Clearwater over the years: “The changes from day to day are overwhelming — I love to ask kids what a rotary phone or a mimeograph machine is. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the family-oriented neighborhood feeling of residents and people who come here to vacation.”