TARPON SPRINGS — If you didn’t already know it, Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos is of Greek extraction.
It only makes sense that the city with one of the highest concentrations of Greek-Americans in the country, a city where according to the U.S. Census one in 10 residents identify as Greek-American, would have a Greek mayor.
A native of Kalymnos, a Greek island in southeastern waters of the crystal clear, blue Aegean Sea, Alahouzos has made it his mission to connect Tarpon Springs with other communities in Greece through Sister Cities International, a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose mission is to create relationships between communities around the world.
The son of Greek sponge diver John Alahouzos, the mayor, a former Verizon executive, has been involved in the sponging industry in one form or another his entire life. But he has made the Sister Cities program a passion as he works to promote Tarpon Springs to Greek officials while bringing back ideas to make the city a better place.
The program, which originated with President Dwight Eisenhower, is key to Alahouzos’ own personal brand of foreign policy.
Alahouzos recently returned from a weeks-long odyssey to cities in Greece, looking to establish ties between Tarpon Springs and the Greek cities of his home island, Kalymnos as well as the cities of Halki and Symi. He is also working on a relationship in Greek Cyprus, but that plan is on hold.
The Sisters Cities program is more than just a relationship-building tool, Alahouzos said. It’s an exchange of ideas that benefit both sides.
“It’s a program designed to provide an exchange of education, culture and economic development,” Alahouzos said. “The exchange of these ideas, education, economic development and culture benefit Tarpon Springs.”
Alahouzos spent time with several key officials in Greece, and several of them said they would attend Tarpon Springs’ Epiphany celebration next year. His meeting with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou also ended with a tentative agreement by Sakellaropoulou to attend the Epiphany celebration.
“You could go to New York, Chicago or any other city and they don’t have a celebration like Tarpon Springs,” Alahouzos said, adding that having Greek officials like the president attend the Epiphany celebration raises national awareness of Tarpon Springs.
During his most recent visit, Alahouzos also visited the Souda Bay military base in Crete, which also inspired him.
“It made me proud to be an American,” he said.
The mayor has paid for previous trips out of his own pocket, but the city covered his most recent visit. The city hasn’t tallied the cost of the trip.
When asked whether the trip was worth it, Alahouzos gave an avuncular smile and said: “Have you not been listening? The economic development, cultural and educational exchange.”