TARPON SPRINGS, FL – “There is no place like this anywhere else in the United States” said Chrysostomos “Chris” Alahouzos, looking out at the sponge boats moored in Tarpon Springs’ harbor, as another boat sailed by, carrying tourists who waved to their counterparts on dry land, and vice versa.
In describing Tarpon Springs’ unique quality, Alahouzos meant that there is no other place in the United States that feels quite as much like Greece as this city on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
FROM SPONGES TO SPONGES
Born on the Dodecanese Island of Kalymnos, Alahouzos came to the United States in 1967, and though he has been back to Greece several times since then, Tarpon Springs is his home. And now, after a lifetime not only in the private sector but also 20 years in public service, Alahouzos is running for mayor of his beloved town in next year’s election. If he wins, he would become the first Greek-born mayor of Tarpon Springs.
A technology expert for Verizon (he recently retired from that position), Alahouzos first ventured into formal cultural endeavors through his involvement in the Kalymnian Society of Tarpon Springs, where he also served as president. He is also proud of his work on Tarpon’s Sister City Committee, which he has led. “Tarpon has four sister cities,” he told TNH. His native Kalymnos, and two other Dodecanese islands, Halki and Symi. “They all have a sponge diving industry,” said Alahouzos, whose father was a sponge diver in Kalymnos and later Tarpon Springs, the latter dubbed “The Sponge Capital of the World.” Tarpon’s fourth sister-city is Larnaca, in Cyprus. Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands, has a street named Tarpon Springs. “I know,” he said, “I’ve been there,” he said, elaborating on his various experiences in that group of islands. “I have a very good friend from Nisyros, too. I haven’t been there yet, but Nisyros has the best figs in all of Greece,” he added.
“My proudest accomplishment to date was my involvement in establishing the Plato Academy,” a highly-regarded charter school in Pinellas County, FL, with campuses in Tarpon Springs as well as Clearwater, Largo, Palm Harbor, Seminole, and St. Petersburg. “We plan to expand to other areas of Florida, too,” he told TNH.
“Teaching Greek is part of the curriculum,” Alahouzos explained, and described the tremendous joy he gets whenever he visits the classrooms and the children – particularly not of Greek descent – speak to him in beautiful, fluent Greek. The father of three and grandfather of two evoked his commitment to excellence in education.
After two terms as Vice Mayor of Tarpon Springs, Alahouzos had to step down due to term limits, but now he is vying for the City’s top job. First and foremost, he told TNH, “we need to attract businesses. Business owners are in it to make money, and we have to give them incentives. Otherwise, they won’t come here – they’ll open their businesses somewhere else. I am in favor of giving tax incentives to businesses that will create jobs in Tarpon Springs.”
Next, Alahouzos spoke about marketing Tarpon Springs. “We need to tell the story of this town – there’s no other place like it.” He believes that if more people know about Tarpon Springs, that would be a huge boost to its tourism.
The third major initiative Alahouzos hopes to accomplish is to improve the quality of life for Tarpon Springs’ seniors, who comprise approximately one third of the population. “Many of them are too old to drive now, and so we need to improve public transportation – so they can get out, shop, go to church, remain independent.” To that end, Alahouzos is pushing the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to provide more services in Tarpon Springs, rather than to focus on Clearwater and St. Petersburg, which already receive a lot of attention.
“As you can tell,” Alahouzos said, “some of my ideas sound Democratic, others Republican (he is registered as the latter).” And that is fitting, because in Tarpon Springs, the mayoral race is not partisan-based. “That allows Democrats, Republicans, and independents to work together,” Alahouzos said.
“I’m not doing it for the money,” Alahouzos said, regarding his mayoral run. Skeptics who think “yeah, they all say that” might take him at his word, though, when they learn that that mayor’s annual salary, as he told TNH, is a mere $13,000.