Mayoral candidate George Cretekos and councilmembers-elect Doreen DiPolito and Jay Polglaze shared their thoughts on attracting businesses to the city, their relationship with the Church of Scientology and how to spur stalled developments at the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition candidate forum Monday night.
While the chair behind mayoral candidate Christine Marketos-Cuomo’s name placard sat vacant, about 100 residents including community leaders and current and former elected officials were in attendance at the forum, held at the on Druid Road.
Many have questioned the seeming secrecy of the enigmatic political newcomer and had hoped to see the mayoral candidate. However, Marketos said in an email that she already had an event planned months earlier “and therefore it would not be fair to cancel.”
Howard Warshauer moderated the debate. Each member of the forum had a set time to answer questions first from the neighborhoods coalition and then some written in from the crowd.
Economic and downtown development were key themes, including pushing stalled projects like and the Strand into completion and how to attract businesses to and other commercial areas, such as the area near U.S. 19.
Polglaze said much of the future prosperity of downtown is tied to improving the East Gateway area and attracting visitors to it.
“It’s the five points,” Polglaze said. “It speaks volumes to highlight that entryway. It’s a great starting point.”
Revitalizing downtown usually leads to talk about the Church of Scientology. The candidates were asked how comfortable they would be picking up the phone and calling someone at the church.
“I’m taking the stand that we are one community,” DiPolito said. “We need to work together.”
Cretekos reminded the crowd that the church is the largest single taxpayer to the city and that anyone is free to believe what they want.
“We have to be able to communicate with each other, and I think the lines from the city to the church are there. I’m not sure the lines from the church to the city are there,” he said.
Installing , which are approved on a trial basis but have not yet been installed at two Clearwater intersections, could be a decision that is reversed under the new council.
Cretekos opposed the cameras when they came up for a vote in November. He could add DiPolito and Polglaze as opponents to the measure, which will be voted on again in about six months.
Because DiPolito and Polglaze ran unopposed, they automatically won their council seats.
DiPolito will fill seat 2, which will be vacated when councilmember John Doran leaves office at the end of his term. DiPolito is the owner of D-Mar General Contracting and said her path to the council is the “next step” after spending six years on the Community Development Board.
Polglaze will fill seat 3, which will be vacated after Cretekos’ term. Polglaze is on the executive board of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and co-director of Jazz Force, which is a group of volunteers who help put together the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
Throughout the forum, DiPolito either did not answer questions, saying she is going to wait until her time on the council starts to understand the issue, or she repeated what Cretekos said.
Lauren Hallahan, who said she has worked on numerous state and national campaigns, was not impressed with Cretekos or DiPolito.
“I think (DiPolito) doesn’t deserve her seat. I wish I would have run just to make her answer the questions,” Hallahan said. “That’s a real letdown.”
Although Cretekos early on in the forum talked about his experience and political past as a plus, Hallahan said she would support Marketos-Cuomo for mayor in this election because of Cretekos' background in politics.
“She’s new, and she doesn’t have more ambition" than Cretekos, she said.
Hallahan said she did like what Polglaze had to say:
“I’d like to see him become our next mayor.”