Thursday, November 23, 2017
Human Interest

Eddie Gonzalez was great police chief, even better party guest

RECOMMENDED READING


Eddie Gonzalez, who died March 14 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, to return to his hometown 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 the chief's job.

At one point, I ran through the tape on fast-forward, and one thing jumped out: The other finalists were accomplished police administrators. Their gestures were tight. 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 on a shady front porch. As befits a son of West Tampa, his gestures rose and swooped and curved away from his body. He had story-telling hands. He 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 Cuban sandwich, not the version he put up with in Miami.

Two months on, Tampa's College Hill erupted in a night of rock- and bottle-throwing. Some fires were lit, some shots fired. The next night, as officers in riot gear massed at a nearby school, Gonzalez left the command post and drove into the neighborhood with a couple of 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 wearing a Miami Hurricanes ball cap. College Hill stayed quiet that night. As he left one house, someone yelled, "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 Mayor Dick Greco, former Hillsborough State Attorney E.J. Salcines and then-Hillsborough Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez — but also Gonzalez's mom, who had worked as a cigarmaker, raised him alone after a divorce and taught him to respect the sisters at St. Joseph's Elementary and Jesuit High.

The lesson took.

"There was not a more cheerful boy than Eddie," said his eighth-grade teacher at St. Joseph's, Sister Philomena Martorana, who also went to Washington for the swearing-in. "He worked hard. He tried. Everyone loved him."

And he had a wicked sense of humor. As chief, Gonzalez once dropped by a Times staff party and pulled off a prank that reporters still talk and laugh about.

Party host Bill Duryea, then a Times general assignment reporter in Tampa, now the paper's enterprise editor, had a pool table in his garage and recalled 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 in clear plastic wrap at the guy's feet as if he were stooping to pick it up.

"Did you drop this?" Gonzalez asked.

With that, 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. While they roared with laughter, the victim jabbered in panic. After a bit, Gonzalez genially doubled back. He paused, shook the guy's hand and tried to calm him down.

He was like that.

Comments
Forget the Pizza Rat. Meet St. Petersburg's Pizza Squirrel

Forget the Pizza Rat. Meet St. Petersburg's Pizza Squirrel

New York, it seems, doesn't have a monopoly on pizza-chomping rodents.
Published: 11/17/17
The Volunteer Way strives to fight hunger in Pasco

The Volunteer Way strives to fight hunger in Pasco

PORT RICHEY — On the second Monday of the month, Joseph Scagliozzi lines up early for a box of food at The Volunteer Way warehouse on Congress Street. It’s a modest offering — a godsend of donated canned goods, peanut butter, rice, pasta, sweets, bev...
Published: 11/15/17
This Scout earned every possible merit badge. Then came cancer.

This Scout earned every possible merit badge. Then came cancer.

LAKE WALES — Ron Cain strolled lakeside at a Boy Scout camp on a crisp November day, the exact spot where he finally earned all of Scouting’s 137 merit badges. "I had to survey this field, which was ridiculous because there were hurrican...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Wisconsin man got locked in a walk-in beer cooler. He had ‘everything that he needed,’ police say.

Wisconsin man got locked in a walk-in beer cooler. He had ‘everything that he needed,’ police say.

Ten minutes to midnight on Tuesday, Jeremy J. Van Ert stepped into a walk-in beer cooler at a Kwik Trip convenience store in Marshfield, Wisconsin.When the doors locked behind him at midnight, he decided that rather than shout for help, he would just...
Updated one month ago
Last-minute Halloween '80s costume idea: Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA'

Last-minute Halloween '80s costume idea: Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA'

The last-minute mania to find the perfect '80s Halloween costume continues. You can thank Adam Sandler for this one. In the movie Grown Ups 2, his gang of friends from childhood throw the wildest '80s costume party I've seen to date on film.  Bu...
Updated one month ago
Last-minute Halloween '80s costume idea: The one-armed violin player

Last-minute Halloween '80s costume idea: The one-armed violin player

The stress is real. Every year. What are you dressing as for Halloween? Will it be an '80s costume? Because, you know, you've been writing a blog about the '80s for 13 years now, so we figure you have some good ideas.  I do. Sorta. And I'll try ...
Updated one month ago