Former St. Pete and Tampa mayors serve up a history lesson at Tiger Bay luncheon
ST. PETERSBURG — Pop quiz:
- How did this city become known for its green benches?
- Who was Tampa’s first Latin mayor?
- When did the population in Tampa finally start to reach more than 5,000?
- Who was the St. Petersburg official who appointed himself “bathing suit inspector”?
A packed audience at the January meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club got the answers to those questions, and a few more, on Wednesday when former mayors from each side of Tampa Bay dished about their cities histories.
Introduced as “the tallest mayors” of their cities, Rick Baker and Pam Iorio stood side by side in the St. Petersburg Yacht Club ballroom and talked about the past rivalries between the region’s two biggest cities, and how that shaped their futures.
The vibe at the event was less “frienemy” and more “family” — with a good bit of teasing thrown in.
Both politicians stayed clear of controversial topics and sidestepped questions that could have produced real tension.
“We had a lot of good times together,” Iorio said, before telling the crowd about Nick Nuccio, who she said was a mayor from Tampa’s past she most admired. (Nuccio, who got into office in the last 1950s, is the answer to the second question above).
Baker then praised Iorio, who he gave credit because she “didn’t try to steal our baseball team,” before launching into a story about a Bob Ulrich, who he said should be greatly admired.
But it was Baker’s story about a different mayor — millionaire bachelor Frank Pulver — that really got the crowd roaring.
Pulver, who was mayor of the Sunshine City in the 1920s, at one time appointed himself bathing suit inspector. It was all part of a plan to get national press — and more visitors to St. Petersburg and its waterfront.
Indeed, it was St. Petersburg vast waterfront parks that Iorio cited as the one thing she would have liked to annex. She called it “walkable and lovely” and contrasted it with the more obstructed waterfront in Tampa.
Both mayors said that was because of deliberate choices made in the past.
Tampa always focused more on industry, Iorio said. St. Petersburg was protective of quality of life issues, Baker said.
The two mayors also talked green benches (which started in 1908 when a real estate agent put some seating outside his downtown officer), Tampa’s history of organized crime and who they believe are the unsung heroes (he said police officers and she said the African American women who fought for civil rights and those now who are fighting to fix their neighborhoods.
They agreed on a crucial turning point for both cities: the arrival of the railroad, which Iorio said led to population growth.
They also had a similar theory for why the area has attracted such colorful characters.
“I think it has something to do with the heat and humidity,” Iorio joked.