TAMPA — Tampa City Council meetings will less colorful, entertaining, and maybe less contentious from now on.
Moses Knott Jr., who was a constant presence at council meetings for more than 30 years, died Feb. 3. He was 74.
Mr. Knott didn't just attend the council meetings. He addressed the council nearly every week. He saw himself as both a friend and an adversary to council members.
"They're all crooks," he told a St. Petersburg Times reporter in 2005. "I tell them all the time. I love them, but they're all crooks."
Some council members spoke of him with respect and affection.
"If we hadn't seen him in a while, we'd start to worry about him, and we were always happy to see him when he came back," said Linda Saul-Sena, who served on the council for 19 years.
For some reason, Mr. Knott invariably and inexplicably called Saul-Sena by the wrong name: Miss Francine. But as her respect for Mr. Knott grew, Saul-Sena said she started to think of it as his affectionate nickname for her.
Mr. Knott was born in Pocahontas, Miss. As a teenager, he hitched a ride to Tampa and never left.
He and his wife Annie Mae had 10 children, and he had another child after they divorced. Mr. Knott and his ex-wife remained devoted friends until the end of his life.
He operated a successful salvage company, and the property around his house was strewn with salable items he had rescued from demolished buildings.
"People called us the real-life Sanford and Son," said his daughter, Patricia Knott Bexley Chapman. "And that was all right with us."
It was all that detritus on his property that first brought Mr. Knott to a City Council meeting. City officials wanted him to clean up the yard. "To him, it was a business," Saul-Sena said. "To the city, it was an eyesore."
It was the first of countless battles he waged with the city, often on behalf of neighbors. He cared about the city and especially its poorer people, his daughter said. When neighbors had a problem they thought the city should address, they would often ask Mr. Knott to be their advocate before the City Council. He always obliged.
Mr. Knott lived near CSX railroad tracks, and he told the council that the land around the tracks was constantly overgrown and had become a health hazard. The council agreed and, though it took a lot of perseverance, Mr. Knott and the council finally got CSX to keep its property trimmed.
Mr. Knott was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November. He chose not to undergo chemotherapy and simply enjoy a last birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family. He spent his last days visiting a funeral home to select a casket and plan his funeral, calling dozens of friends to say goodbye and, of course, attending one last Tampa City Council meeting.
"He taught us that what was important was to make your life and the lives of your neighbors better," his daughter said. "He fought a lot of battles, some he won and some he didn't. But what mattered to him was to have his voice heard."