TAMPA — Instead of sitting Tuesday in his usual spot, Stephen Swindal moved one seat to the left. It was not an insignificant move: That's where his friend William A. "Hoe" Brown, former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, used to sit.
Brown resigned Friday from the board after revelations by the Tampa Bay Times last week that he illegally rented mobile homes with deplorable living conditions behind his Seminole Heights business office. Brown apologized and on July 9 dismantled the improper mobile home park.
But as more information about the scope and duration of the problems emerged, Brown's public and political ambitions succumbed to concerns about his business practices. In his resignation to Gov. Rick Scott, Brown said "this is the right thing to do."
Which is why, Tuesday morning, Swindal took his seat as the new chairman of the Tampa Port Authority. The former vice chairman was automatically elevated to chairman of the board that oversees the Port of Tampa and its annual $15 billion economic impact on the area.
"I didn't anticipate sitting in this chair this morning," Swindal said. "But I am honored to be your chairman."
Swindal, 58, is chairman of Marine Towing of Tampa LLC and was appointed by the governor's office to the board in 2008, along with Brown. Swindal was once expected to succeed George Steinbrenner atop the New York Yankees, but divorced from the family and was bought out in 2007.
His first act as chairman was to thank the past chairman.
"We wish his family the best," Swindal said.
None of the other six board members spoke about Brown. Nor did Tampa Port Authority CEO Paul Anderson, whom Brown helped select and hire in January.
Brown resigned from his unpaid position on the port board and from the boards of Visit Tampa Bay, the county's tourism agency, and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which promotes amateur athletics. He also gave up his elected post as Republican state committeeman.
The governor will need to appoint a successor to fill the vacancy on the port board. The tourism and sports agencies will choose their own replacements.
The rest of the port meeting proceeded normally — but not before Marilyn Smith had her say.
The 72-year-old often does. The Hillsborough County activist is the port's resident gadfly. She regularly addresses — and at times, scolds — the board.
"I'm glad most of it is over," she said. But she did have words for one member of the board: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
In recent months, the city's code enforcement office asked Brown to address the conditions of his rentals. But interviews with tenants and police records show that living conditions there have been low, and the level of chaos high, for several years.
Why, Smith asked, didn't the city cite Brown years ago?
"I cannot understand why hefty fines have not been levied, Mr. Mayor," Smith said.
The mayor did not respond but had said earlier that "Hoe knows better. He shouldn't have done it."
Swindal told Smith her time was up. She wished him well as chairman.
"Congratulations," she said, "and let's sail on.
"Sail on," Swindal said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji on Twitter.