TARPON SPRINGS, FLA. – On March 15, most of the nation’s eyes will focus on the presidential primary elections, particularly in the key states of Florida and Ohio. Will Democratic and Republican front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump clinch their parties’ nominations that evening, or will their challengers endure to fight another day?
But March 15 is significant to two smaller subsets of America: the citizens of Tarpon Springs, Florida, and the Greek-American community at large. Because on that day, Tarpon Springs will elect its next Mayor.
Chris (Chrysostomos) Alahouzos, a resident of Tarpon Springs for almost 50 years, was born on the Greek island of Kalymnos. If he wins the election, he would become the first Greek-born mayor in Tarpon Springs’ history – which is significant for a number of reasons.
First, any time an individual of Hellenic descent wins an American election, it is a significant chapter in the historical annals of Greek America.
Second, that in this case it would be a person born in Greece, also is a boost to the immigrant community in America as a whole, further evidence that despite heated debates on the campaign trail regarding immigration, America remains the land of opportunity and good, honest, hard work pays off – for immigrants as well as natives.
Finally, a win by Alahouzos would be significant to Tarpon Springs Though the Gulf Coast Florida city has more Greeks per capita than any other place in the United States, that still only means about 10% of the population is Greek – the rest are not.
Accordingly, for a Greek to win that election is a big deal, even in arguably the “Greekest” of Greektowns across the country.
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.
But “my proudest accomplishment to date was my involvement in establishing the Plato Academy,” a highly-regarded charter school in Pinellas County, Florida, 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. He would like to see a hotel on the historic Sponge Docks, “but one that would conform to the city’s history” and enhance it.
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.
NOT IN IT FOR THE MONEY
“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.
With such meager compensation, the position is part-time, but being that Alahouzos is now retired, he has no qualms about devoting many, many hours during the week to meet with his constituents.
It is not a full-time job requirement, he emphasizes, but he didn’t feel right about running for mayor until he retired, because he wanted to – voluntarily – devote a full workweek to the responsibility.