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New city servant brings a pedigree

Incoming Clearwater council member George Cretekos has won praise from both parties.

By MIKE DONILA
Published February 4, 2007


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CLEARWATER - When Congressman C.W. Bill Young couldn't make it to Pinellas County, George Cretekos was his face and voice.

The longtime aide was called upon to meet with local residents and leaders, study government needs and, on occasion, deliver speeches.

After more than three decades, Cretekos retired in May to do a few things he didn't think working in Washington would give him the time to do.

First, he relearned how to ride a bike with his 4-year-old godson; then, he spent a month on a missionary journey in Indonesia.

And, looking for ways to continue serving the public, Cretekos decided in December to run for a seat on the Clearwater City Council.

His path was cleared when no one filed to run against him. So in March, he will begin serving the remaining year of Hoyt Hamilton's term. Hamilton left the council to move to the Atlanta area.

"George is a dream candidate," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "Every time we have a vacancy, you worry about who you'll get, but fortunately we've always been able to get a high-caliber person."

Since announcing his candidacy, Cretekos, a Republican, has been lauded by friends, acquaintances, his former boss and even those on the other side of the political fence.

It's nearly impossible to find someone who will say a bad word about him. Phrases like "consensus builder," "public servant" and "mediator" come up in conversations about his character.

Cretekos, 60, has been credited with playing a role in Young's office that helped secure millions for the area, including funding for technology, youth centers, street improvements, a training center and the Memorial Causeway Bridge.

Cretekos, though, won't take credit.

"I was part of a team, and I played a role working with Congressman Young and it was a great opportunity. But he was the leader," he said. "To say there are things I was responsible for - well, that's mighty nice of people to say, but I think people give me too much credit."

* * *

A Tampa native who spent most of his life in Tarpon Springs, Cretekos joined Young's staff in 1971. And he quickly became a local favorite.

"We went to him for so many things we used to call him Congressman George," said Tony DiMatteo, chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee. "He's always felt that it was his job to serve the people, and he's always done it. Once someone like George says 'I'll take care of it,' you can forget about it because it's done."

DiMatteo said Young's staff not only helped local governments secure money but also focused on residents. He recalled a time when a Clearwater business owner was having trouble securing U.S. residency "largely because of the bureaucracy."

"George made a few calls and the bureaucrats didn't want to hear calls from Young's office," DiMatteo said. "He was miraculously sworn in as a U.S. citizen a few weeks later. I don't know how he did it, but he did it."

Young, first elected to Congress in 1970 and a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, said he was disappointed when Cretekos retired because "he made sure the district was taken care of."

"We worked on so many things together," the District 10 congressman said. "I think George knows almost everyone in Pinellas County."

Now, local leaders and political experts say Cretekos is going to bring 35 years' worth of Washington wisdom and state contacts to a council that is focusing on revitalizing the city.

While they admit he can't just "make things happen," his name recognition could mean phone calls get returned a little faster.

"I think his contacts open up doors that may never be opened without him, and he understands the relationships Clearwater has with (other governments)," said local attorney Ed Armstrong, who keeps his thumb on the county's political pulse. "He's endeared himself to most of the community - you'll never hear anything negative said about him, which is rare in the political world."

Cretekos chuckles at the praise.

"I'm a little frightened because everyone is saying all these nice things about me, but ... what are they going to be saying next year," he said. "I hope I don't disappoint too many people. Maybe I should have stayed retired."

* * *

Cretekos, who lives in a Sand Key condominium, has been meeting with city department heads and county leaders as he prepares to be sworn into office.

He said he doesn't necessarily have a detailed vision for the community, but he'd like to see city officials continue redeveloping the downtown, making it a destination for visitors and residents.

He said he's encouraged by some of the downtown projects under way, such as the Station Square initiative and the Water's Edge development, and feels Clearwater's efforts to build boat slips under the Memorial Causeway Bridge will help draw more people.

He's not opposed to big development along the beach but is concerned continued construction will block the entire view of the beach.

He said city leaders need to strike a balance that's fair to builders, homeowners and visitors.

"When people come to Pinellas, they want to come to the beach, and Clearwater has the prime beach in my opinion," Cretekos said.

The council newcomer adds that he doesn't think it will be tough changing gears from federal to local politics because "every day I'll still be dealing with people."

"It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat - you are a resident of Pinellas County or Clearwater. We all still work together, and we all still call the community home."

As for his plans beyond his year on the Clearwater City Council or any other political aspirations, Cretekos wouldn't say.

"I'm taking it one day at a time."

Fast Facts:

 

George Cretekos

Age: 60

Occupation: Former aide to Congressman C.W. Bill Young; incoming Clearwater City Council member.

Family: Married, wife Carolyn.

Education: Political science degree from Davidson College in North Carolina and a masters in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh

Local issues: Says he'll vote to extend the third Penny for Pinellas sales tax. He also says the boat slips proposed for the downtown waterfront are a good first step toward revitalizing the area.

What he learned from Young: "You try to make sure that what you do is in the best interest in the community."

 

Most rewarding part: Giving blood and getting involved in blood donation drives years ago when Congressman Young got involved with a bone marrow registry program.

What you might not know about him: After retiring, Cretekos relearned how to ride a bicycle while spending time with his 4-year-old godson. He also spent a month in Indonesia on a missionary visit for his church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox in Clearwater.

On leaving Washington: "I worked a lot of years, and I wanted to give back to the community in a different way. I wanted to do some things I hadn't had the opportunity to do."

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 21:02:19]


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