Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Charles E. 'Chuck' Rainey, consummate Pinellas politician, dies at 77

PALM HARBOR — Charles Rainey, who dominated the Pinellas County Commission for the better part of 29 years in the manner of an old-style political boss, died Wednesday (June 23, 2010) at Hospice House Brookside. He was 77 and had liver cancer.

In his era, Mr. Rainey was known as an unapologetic fighter for Pinellas County, particularly in the decades-long "water wars" that pitted him against Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

He also served as a longtime chairman of the Pinellas County Industry Council, traveling extensively to persuade manufacturers to move here. His advocacy helped bring businesses to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport area; and, with U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, he rescued 2,000 jobs at a former General Electric plant that became the Young-Rainey Star Center.

"He didn't mind who he offended if he offended them doing what he thought was right for Pinellas County — Republicans or Democrats or anybody," said Young, a longtime friend who named his son, Patrick Rainey Young, after Mr. Rainey.

A former two-term state legislator, Mr. Rainey was appointed to the commission in 1967 and elected the next year. His fellow commissioners elected him chairman nine times

Colleagues called him a kingpin, a power broker, a rainmaker.

"A lot of people chuckled about him being our godfather, but it was a joke," said former Pinellas County Administrator Fred Marquis.

At the same time, Marquis said, "If you got on the wrong side of an issue, he would bring great force to bear against you."

A man of regular habits, he took his coffee black, loved steak and seafood and refused to touch anything green.

Among other things, Mr. Rainey is credited with coming up with the money for countywide emergency services; getting a county waste-removal facility to replace city-owned landfills; and leading a 3-2 majority that picked up half the tab to build a domed stadium — which would later become Tropicana Field — with hotel taxes.

But it was during the prolonged water wars that Mr. Rainey really showed his mettle.

"Water, like air, belongs to everyone and should be proclaimed a state resource," Mr. Rainey declared in 1978.

He defended the well fields in northwest Hillsborough and Pasco counties, bought and paid for under his direction, which pumped millions of gallons of water a day into Pinellas County. When neighboring counties complained that the well fields were drawing down their lakes and wetlands, Mr. Rainey blamed the drought.

As chairman of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, he opposed any limit on the amount of water Pinellas could draw. When Hillsborough commissioner Ed Turanchik pressed for just such a restriction, Mr. Rainey gave him a new name: "Ed Tourniquet."

It was the kind of joke Mr. Rainey became known for, one that brought smiles even to opponents' faces. He called Honey Rand, a former Southwest Water Management District spokeswoman, the "best propagandist since Goebbels."

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Rainey, an only child, moved to St. Petersburg with his parents. He graduated from the Florida Military Academy in 1950 and studied at Emory University and the University of Florida. In 1953 he joined the Army, serving as chief cashier in the 8th Division and leaving as a sergeant in 1955.

An investment counselor, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1964 and 1966. In 1967, Gov. Claude Kirk, a fellow Republican, appointed Mr. Rainey to succeed a commissioner who had died. Mr. Rainey said he would serve two years and run again for the state House. But once on the commission, and after losing a bid for Congress in 1972, he decided to stay.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Rainey survived a tumultuous period in which three commission colleagues were jailed in a political corruption scandal.

He was a rainmaker at home, too. "You almost didn't dare tell him that you like something," said his daughter, Elizabeth Law. If you did, he would buy it for you in bulk.

He was married and divorced twice, each marriage lasting about 20 years, his family said.

Mr. Rainey stepped down in the middle of his term in 1996, citing health reasons. The water wars ended in 1998 with the formation of Tampa Bay Water.

. Biography

Charles Edward Rainey

Born: Aug. 10, 1932

Died: June 23, 2010

Survivors: daughter, Elizabeth Law and her husband, James; son, Charles Rainey Jr. and his wife, Joanne; two grandchildren.

Service: Noon Monday (visitation 10 a.m. to noon); the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, 5815 Fifth Ave N. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center or Suncoast Hospice.

Charles E. 'Chuck' Rainey, consummate Pinellas politician, dies at 77 06/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 11:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Can Bucs become Tampa Bay's favorite team again?


    Their playoff run came up a tiebreaker short.

    Bucs fullback, Mike Alstott talks to the crowd as he walked along Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa during the Buccaneer victory parade Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003.Times Photo by: Fraser Hale
  2. Carlton: Rape case politics? New state attorney has no regrets


    All's fair in love and war, the saying goes.

    Hillsborough State Atttorney Andrew Warren beat incumbent state attorney Mark Ober in a close election that included allegations of mishandled rape cases. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times
  3. Hillsborough to move slowly on name change for school honoring Robert E. Lee


    TAMPA — While officials around the nation move quickly to address the issue of public monuments to the Confederacy, the Hillsborough County School Board opted Tuesday to keep moving slowly on a proposal to rename a school honoring Robert E. Lee.

    Lee Elementary Magnet School of World Studies & Technology, formerly named Robert E. Lee Elementary, originally opened its doors in the early 1900s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School. Now some School Board members want to rename the predominantly black school, but the district is proceeding slowly. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  4. What does a 'win' in Afghanistan look like? Tampa stakeholders have differing views


    Few communities in the United States have as much at stake as Tampa in what happens next with Afghanistan.

    Mike Nicholson, who lost both legs and his left arm in July 2011 in Afghanistan, supports giving military leaders more autonomy.
  5. St. Petersburg may get two new charter schools


    Following a two-year dry spell, the Pinellas County school district has received two applications to open charter schools in St. Petersburg.

    The former location of Windsor Preparatory Academy, which closed in 2016, has been mentioned as a possible site for a new charter school, St. Petersburg Academy of Math and Science. The school is one of two charters that recently applied to open in 2018. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times]