U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis with Frank and Nancy Chicollo, left, and Susan and Andy Marshall during the Palm Harbor lawmaker’s holiday open house on the SPC-Tarpon Campus.

TARPON SPRINGS – U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis held a holiday open house for his friends and supporters last week at his office on the St. Petersburg College Tarpon Campus.

The Palm Harbor Republican lawmaker was greeted by a crowd of roughly 30, including Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos, Dec. 18, inside the building on the SPC campus on Klosterman Road named after his parents, former U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis and Evelyn Bilirakis.

As he made his way around the room, shaking hands, posing for photos and listening to the comments and concerns from his constituents, several attendees spoke about Bilirakis’ dedication to the community.

“I think it’s nice he gets to do this, greet his friends and family every holiday,” Mayor Alahouzos said, noting he and the Bilirakis both have connections to the Greek island of Kalymnos. The mayor was born there, and Bilirakis, who was born in Gainesville, is a descendant of Kalymnians.

“We have strong ties from our childhood, and I know how much he has always cared about this community,” Alahouzos said. “I’m very grateful to him for everything he’s done for Tarpon, including helping us secure $3.5 million in federal funding for the Anclote River Dredging Project this summer.”

Other guests also shared warm thoughts about Bilirakis, who was re-elected to a seventh term in the U.S. House last month.

Bilirakis represents Florida U.S. House District 12, which encompasses all of Pasco County, portions of North Pinellas and a small sliver of northwestern Hillsborough County.

“I’m grateful for the congressman’s service, and I appreciate that he recognizes the people who support him,” Palm Harbor resident Susan Marshall said. “He has always been a big veterans advocate, and that’s one of the reasons my husband and I support him.”

Indeed, Bilirakis’ much-publicized commitment to veterans was a running theme of the two-hour event.

“He supports me, so I support him,” Oldsmar’s Frank Chicollo, the chair of Bilirakis’ Veterans Advisory Committee, said. “Not just in Congress, but even when he was in the state legislature, he worked so hard to get things done for veterans, including raising the homestead tax exemption for disabled vets from $500 to $5,000 and also making sure benefits go to the surviving spouses of veterans when they die. So, he’s done a lot for us, and he’s been doing it for a long time. He’s legit.”

In between the hugs and handshakes, and after he made a quick call about an issue at the request of one guest, Bilirakis took time to say a few words about the importance of his annual holiday open house.

“It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays because I love to interact with my constituents,” he said. “I love public service — I’ve always believed the best ideas come from the people—and this open house is a great way to exchange ideas, listen to concerns and say thank you at the holidays. I really enjoy it.”