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Clearwater mayor's friends roast him

CLEARWATER — Mayor Frank Hibbard sat on a throne at the center of a banquet hall. His wife, Teresa, neared him with a crown. From beyond the limelight came a voice.

"His head," someone shouted, "is too big!"

Hibbard's friends laughed. He was, after all, their guest of dishonor. When you are proud, well-known and outspoken, you are afforded certain luxuries. One is watching your friends rip you apart.

In the last months before his term ends, Hibbard has begun talking of his accomplishments from nearly 10 years in office. And so Monday night, perhaps to balance the odds, Hibbard's supporters honored him with a large roast at the Belleair Country Club to call out his flaws.

His oversensitivity. His insecurity. His infamous ego.

"I've known Frank so long," said Nathan Hightower, his former neighbor, "I remember when he was humble."

The roast, a fundraiser for the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance, drew nearly 300 to the brick-and-vine clubhouse where Hibbard is a member. It was a night for prominent supporters and political elites: Pinellas County commissioners Karen Seel and Susan Latvala, interim Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and Clearwater City Council members George Cretekos and Bill Jonson were in attendance. Hibbard's children, Whitney, 25, and Spencer, 22, were there. Two Clearwater police volunteers handed out name tags. To schmooze and watch Hibbard squirm, guests paid $125 a plate.

Organizers didn't skimp on the details. After the Marine Corps League's color guard, the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation ("We give thanks for Mayor Hibbard, who has also sacrificed to see that we have all the things we need"), a dinner of salmon, whipped potatoes and truffle chicken was served.

A photographer snapped pictures near a cardboard cutout of Hibbard in a blue blazer, and guests bid in an auction for diamond earrings and three nights at the Sheraton Sand Key. Shelly Bauer, a Veterans Alliance spokesman, promoted it for weeks as "The Event."

Yet for all the night's extravagances, the "roasters" told jokes that were often raw and unrestrained. Master of ceremonies Aaron Fodiman, publisher of Tampa Bay Magazine, said Hibbard was so "thin-skinned a doctor doesn't have to take an X-ray to see inside him." Restaurateur Frank Chivas, whose Island Way Grill helped launch Hibbard's mayoral campaign in 2004, asked whether Pickles Plus Too, the downtown deli that sued the city, was catering the roast. Former mayor Brian Aungst lambasted him for his notoriously bad first pitch at a Philadelphia Phillies spring training game in 2005. He was one of several roasters to bring up the city's destruction of playgrounds, a budgetary move that led a St. Petersburg Times editorial to dub him "the mayor who demolished playgrounds."

"Never, ever answer the phone," Aungst advised him, "when the St. Pete Times calls."

Organizers took liberties, too, with Hibbard's look. He was depicted in a large photo illustration with a rope around his waist, tugging a tank to Clearwater, recalling his contentious idea to move the Armed Forces Military Museum to the Harborview Center.

Two women in skimpy Hooters outfits walked in with a banner showing his face on a model's body, a nudge at the city's most famous business — and, perhaps, at Hibbard's push in 2006 to cover up one of the restaurant's suggestive billboards.

Hibbard took the jabs in stride, thanking the roasters at the end of the night. He later said "almost every" embarrassing tale told was embellished with "literary license."

An example: his high school classmate, John Thomas, said he entered office with a Nissan and is leaving with a Mercedes.

Wrong, Hibbard said. He entered office with a Lexus.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Clearwater mayor's friends roast him 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 7:41pm]
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