Mayor Spiros Danelis: A man for all seasons
“If Crete had more men like him in public office, we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having.”
That was one of the first statements we heard regarding the mayor of Hersonissos, when The Crete Gazette decided to interview Spiros Danelis. That’s a pretty strong endorsement, especially in a non-election year. And, since the speaker was just a local citizen, and not a party hack, the words carried even more weight. Needless to say, we were anxious to meet this “saviour of Cretan woes” and find out for ourselves – and our readers – if it is true, and how he would bring about this monumental turn of events.
We first met in his spacious office in the Hersonissos town hall. The mayor, with sleeves rolled up, sat behind a desk stacked high with papers – a scene that had “busy” stamped all over it. However, his manner showed no hint of “interruption” – he was pleasant and most cordial. With us was Sofia Tzedaki, of his Public Information Office.
“It’s a serious problem for sure,” Mayor Danelis said, in response to the first, and most obvious, question about the state of Crete’s most important industry. “We must change our views towards tourism in order to survive. Mass summer tourism is dying. It must no longer be a one-season industry on Crete – our climate allows for excellent tourism for every season, and we must pursue the middle- and upper-middleclass holiday maker.”
Mr. Danelis said that Hersonissos has already made inroads in that direction, and is exploring ways to go further. “We have excellent conference facilities here in our larger hotels – this past spring we hosted over 2,000 business-oriented guests,” he said. “And with continued new developments, such as the highly successful Cretan Golf Course, and the forth-coming health spa centre, four-season tourism can become a reality. However, it will not come easily. We need the cooperation of everyone, from big businesses to small – shop owners to large tour operators. Everyone must work together.”
The mayor believes that specialized theme tourism must also be investigated – such as gourmet, sports and eco-oriented holidays. “We have excellent basketball and football facilities which can easily accommodate professional and amateur events and tournaments,” he said, adding that the area’s ecological environment is next to none, and that the chefs in Hersonissos’ five-star hotels are among the finest in Greece.
While Mayor Danelis keeps an eye open towards the future of Hersonissos, he has not lost sight of the present situations and problems of his constituency – and the mention of the hotels brought a frown, as if anticipating what was coming next. We didn’t disappoint him.
“Yes, that is a serious issue which must be addressed,” he said in response to our question about the negative aspects of the all-inclusive phenomenon which has been incorporated by many of the larger hotels, and, now, even some of the smaller ones. “It is harmful to the local businessmen and shop owners, as well as, in some cases, to tourism in general. And, it has a negative effect on our resources, such as water. I strongly support the proposal that an all-inclusive policy be allowed only in hotels situated in outlying areas – several kilometres from the town proper.”
When it comes to the quality of tourists which populate Hersonissos, the mayor feels it is among the finest in Crete. “Sure, there is the occasional incident with young singles at the bars, but not even close to the scale of what happens in some of the surrounding areas. The majority of our visitors are young couples and families.”
“The beach road (and its bars) will always be a place for fun for young people,” he said, “but turmoil, if it occurs, must be handled quickly. A key to this is that every bar or club must function according to its permit.” In relation to these functions, Mayor Danelis this season became the first-ever mayor of Hersonissos who successfully closed five bars for violating their permits, mostly for excessive noise.
While admitting that the cooperation between the police and the town council has not always been the best, Mayor Danelis said he has now established a town police force for Hersonissos, currently consisting of three officers. “I know, it’s not much yet for a town with a summer population of about 80,000,” he said with an apologetic smile, “but it’s a start. Eventually we would like to have a force of 35 officers, which would allow us to keep tighter controls on parking, traffic and bars, as well as other town problems, such as littering, by issuing fines. Even with such a small force at the moment, this past season we issued fines ranging from 15,000 Euros to 45,000 Euros to 29 companies for littering – mostly for posting commercial advertising billboards on public property.”
However, of the myriad of problems facing the mayor of Crete’s most popular holiday destination, Mr. Danelis considers the situation of the “illegal” quads as the most serious, by far. “This one kills people,” he said with a pained expression, “four this season in Hersonissos alone – many more throughout Crete. By working with the police, we were successful in making those death traps illegal. Then (Deputy Tourism Minister Anastasios) Liaskos came along and decided that they should be legalized, and over 2,000 of those deadly machines were back on Hersonissos’ roads.” But, the energetic mayor won’t stop there. “I’m calling a town council meeting to introduce a measure to have the quads banned in the traditional villages of Old Hersonissos, Koutouloufari and Piskopiano. At least that’s a start,” he said.
A former Member of Parliament, Mr. Danelis is serving his first term as mayor – but, hopefully, not his last. Realizing there is still much work to be done, the youthful-looking 50-year-old has already announced his intention of running for a second four-year term next year. An architect by trade, with a master’s degree from the University of Rome, he is married to Nena Galanidou and has two daughters, five and three.
“At least that’s a start,” Mr. Danelis said, nodding, repeating his last statement with a look of determination that would strike fear in the hearts of his adversaries. And later, saying our goodbyes to the Mayor and his Press Secretary, we were struck with the words of that very first remark we heard about the mayor of Hersonissos: If Crete had more men like him in public office, we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having