Eddie Gonzalez, a Tampa police chief with a knack for putting people at ease, dies at 73
Eddie Gonzalez, who died Friday at 73 of a heart attack in South Florida, wasn’t Tampa’s longest-serving police chief, but he may have been its most relaxed.
Then-Mayor Sandy Freedman hired Gonzalez, Tampa’s chief from March 1992 through June 1993, away from his job as second-in-command at the Metro-Dade Police Department.
As a reporter, my first look at Gonzalez was not in person, but on videotape, and it was telling. Before he arrived in Tampa, I borrowed the tape of the city’s interviews with each of the finalists for police chief.
At one point, I ran through the tape on fast-forward, and one thing jumped out: The other finalists were accomplished police administrators, but their body language suggested they were all about control. Their gestures were tight, and their hands stayed close to their bodies. They pointed. Ticked off lists on their fingers. Used their palms flatly, like spades, to push unseen things around in short, straight lines.
Gonzalez, by contrast, lounged in his chair as if it were placed in the shade of someone’s front porch. As befits a son of West Tampa, his hands moved constantly. His gestures rose and swooped and curved away from his body. He had story-telling hands. Gonzalez looked open to conversation, and he laughed. A lot.
On the job, Gonzalez proved no different. He spent his first day chatting up rank-and-file officers, drinking eight cups of coffee and giving thanks that he could get an authentic Ybor City-style Cuban sandwich, not the version he put up with in Miami.
Two months on, Tampa’s College Hill Homes public housing erupted into a night of rock- and bottle-throwing. Some fires were lit, and some shots fired. The next night, as cops in riot gear massed at a nearby school, Gonzalez left the command post and drove into the neighborhood with a couple members of his staff. He stopped to chat up about two dozen people at a barbecue. Moving on, he paused to light someone’s cigarette and caught some grief for his Miami Hurricanes ball cap. College Hill stayed quiet that night. As he left one house, someone called out,”See ya, Eddie.“
A little more than a year later, he was hired away as director of the U.S. Marshals Service. At his swearing in in Washington D.C., the crowd included a Who’s Who from Tampa: former Hillsborough State Attorney E.J. Salcines, then-Hillsborough Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez and former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco — but also Gonzalez's mom, who had worked as a cigar maker, raised him alone after a divorce and taught him to respect the sisters at St. Joseph's Elementary and Jesuit High School.
The lesson took.
"There was not a more cheerful boy than Eddie," his eighth-grade teacher at St. Joseph's, Sister Philomena Martorana, said that day. "He worked hard. He tried. Everyone loved him."
And he had a wicked sense of humor. As chief, Gonzalez once dropped by a Friday night Times party and pulled off a legendary prank.
Party host Bill Duryea, then a Times general assignment reporter in Tampa, now the paper's enterprise editor, had a pool table in the garage and recalled Wednesday that Gonzalez shot a very good game.
At one point, Gonzalez was moving around the pool table, and as he passed a Times staffer sitting on the couch, he leaned down in one smooth motion and placed a little piece of soap wrapped in clear plastic wrap at the guy’s feet as if he were stooping to pick it up.
"Did you drop this?" Gonzalez asked.
The guy “elevated off the couch like he had been snatched by a hook," Duryea said. "With his hands in the air, he shouted ‘I never touched that!’ "
Duryea and another reporter, the late Paul de la Garza, had put Gonzalez up to the joke and disintegrated in laughter as the victim jabbered in panic. Gonzalez eventually doubled back. He paused, shook the guy’s hand and tried to calm him down.
He was like that.