Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Penn State's scandal consumes a longtime family friend

Bob Buckhorn poses with Joe Paterno when Buckhorn was a candidate for mayor and Paterno was still a coach.

Photo courtesy of Bob Buckhorn

Bob Buckhorn poses with Joe Paterno when Buckhorn was a candidate for mayor and Paterno was still a coach.

TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a careful politician, so it was a little surprising to see how openly and unapologetically he rooted for Penn State against Florida in the last Outback Bowl.

At the time, Buckhorn was fighting for his political future in a five-candidate primary in the mayor's race. A few people around Tampa even whispered, doesn't this guy know some undecided voters are Gators?

Didn't matter.

Buckhorn graduated from Penn State, Class of 1980, but it was more than that. Penn State was Joe Paterno, and Paterno has been a friend of Buckhorn's family for eight decades.

Buckhorn's mother, Rita, and Paterno grew up on the same block in a half-Irish, half-Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. As the football coach grew in prominence, Penn State was always a presence in the family. On Buckhorn's first day of college, his mom walked him into Paterno's office and said, "Joe, take care of my son."

At Penn State, the 145-pound Buckhorn played lacrosse, not football, and had only occasional contact with Paterno.

"I would see him periodically on campus, and I would always remind him who I was, and he was always very friendly, always asking about my uncles and my mom, and the families and the kids and the cousins," he said. "I never asked him for anything, never wanted anything, never needed anything from him. But I knew if I needed something, he would have been there for me."

So it was with dread and horror this week that Buckhorn watched Penn State's sexual abuse scandal consume a man who has loomed large in his life.

"From shock to sadness to acceptance to disappointment," the mayor said of his reaction. "I was totally blindsided by it."

Now he is disappointed — as he believes Paterno is himself — that Paterno didn't do more, that everybody didn't do more, when they first heard the allegations.

"The two pillars in my life, other than my family, were the Catholic Church and Penn State, embodied in Joe Paterno," he said. At both, "good people chose to look the other way, with catastrophic results."

Buckhorn didn't know Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach accused of sexually assaulting a series of young boys. In an interview in his office this week, Buckhorn's voice was calm, his tone thoughtful and reflective. But when Sandusky's name came up, he began quickly snapping the catch on a ball-point pen.

"They ought (snap!) to put him in (snap!) an institution (snap! snap!) where (snap! snap!) he's going to get exactly what he deserves," he said. "You can't punish him enough for the crimes that he's committed."

When asked about the leadership lessons he takes away from the scandal at Penn State, Buckhorn mentions his daughters, ages 6 and 10.

"I had a conversation with my kids the other day when all of this was going on," he said. "Because of me they follow Penn State and they know all about Coach Paterno, and they were watching the news."

Buckhorn, 53, said he tried to explain to them how important it is to do the right thing every time, to speak up and take a stand whenever you see someone doing something wrong.

At his beloved Penn State, "they didn't take action and as a result a lot of young children were hurt," Buckhorn said. "That blame lies squarely on those who chose not to take action."

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.

For Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Penn State's scandal consumes a longtime family friend 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 11:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.