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Dick Greco's legendary run comes to a sudden end

TAMPA — In the late 1960s, then-Mayor Dick Greco's administration was sometimes known as the "Italian Camelot," a legendary time for a generation of Tampa leaders who came of age in and around Ybor City.

But even in myth Camelot came to an end, and on Tuesday night so did Dick Greco's decades of success at the ballot box.

Greco, 77, failed to make the March 22 runoff, finishing behind Rose Ferlita and Bob Buckhorn in his run for a fifth term as Tampa's mayor.

Speaking to a solemn crowd at Higgins Hall at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, Greco said he had run his last campaign.

"I was asked a million times, what does that thing mean?" Greco said, holding up one of his campaign stickers, which featured a iconic orange hand on a black background. "It meant for the campaign, 'Give me five.' What it means tonight is, politically, goodbye."

Before Tuesday, Greco had never lost an election. He won a City Council seat at age 29, the mayor's office at 34, then again at 38, at 61 and at 65.

The last time, in 1999, Greco ran unopposed. He often said that showed people must have thought he was doing a good job.

By many measures, he did. In the 1960s and 1970s, he reformed City Hall, made the Police Department more professional, launched an effort to build a modern sewage treatment plant to clean up Tampa Bay and recruited Metropolitan Life, Tampa's first big corporate relocation.

In his last two terms, from 1995 to 2003, Greco brought a major hotel to downtown to support the Tampa Convention Center. He added police officers and engineered a winning campaign to sell voters on the Community Investment Tax, a sales tax that has paid for new schools, public safety improvements and the stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

From the start of this campaign, Greco sought to re-create the chemistry that had worked so well in the past — one part optimism, one part organization and one part money.

Greco often noted that during his first race for mayor in 1967, 60,000 people voted — twice as many as in 2007. (This time, not quite 42,000, or 22 percent, voted.)

From the start, however, there were differences this time.

Compared with Greco's comeback in 1995, the crowd at his campaign kickoff Nov. 29 was more white and more affluent — less La Teresita, more Bern's Steak House — and that set the tone for his fundraising.

In three months, Greco raised nearly $480,000, a third more than his next-closest competitor. On average, Greco's donors contributed an average of about $320 each, much more than the donors for his opponents.

Greco also won coveted endorsements from the police union and local builders groups, but often found himself on the defensive.

Asked what made the difference, Greco said it was being 77 years old and having other candidates talk about "turning the generational page."

But in the final weeks of the campaign, he also found himself being asked to explain a couple of questionable remarks, including his comparison of Tampa's race riots of the 1960s to a panty raid.

Opponents also attacked Greco's record on fiscal responsibility and ethics. A last-minute anonymous mailer raised many of the questions again, urging voters to thank Mayor Pam Iorio for cleaning up Greco's messes.

That, Greco said Tuesday night, is the kind of thing he had hoped to change in politics.

The last week of the campaign, Greco said he had a feeling the election might turn out as it did.

But after nearly five decades in politics, he said he wouldn't change anything about how he ran any of his campaigns.

Asked how he hoped people would remember him as a politician, Greco had a simple answer.

"Just that I'm a nice guy," he said. "That's it. Really. It sounds kind of trite. I think it's important."

Dick Greco's legendary run comes to a sudden end 03/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 8:33am]
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