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From scooter to SUV, our mayors and how they roll

Back in the day, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco got around on city business palming the wheel of a Lincoln Town Car, which seems fitting for the city's schmooziest mayor. Then came Practical Pam Iorio, running to ribbon cuttings in a bright green gas-sipper of a hybrid, which sounds about right, too.

On his side of the bay, Mayor Bill Foster is outfitted with a similarly thrifty hybrid used by his predecessor, Rick Baker. But the truth about Foster's wheels is much more interesting: What St. Petersburg's mayor really likes is tooling around on his own orange scooter, one with a squeaky horn the mayor himself calls "kind of lame."

He will tell you he loves his scooter, loves how it lets him explore the nooks and crannies of his city on his way to and from work. It's an eclectic, even charming detail about the town, though some clearly find it less so.

"He swears to me he's careful and puts a helmet on and all that," police Chief Chuck Harmon says, and is that a sigh in his voice?

"They would prefer that I not ride the scooter," says Foster, "but I'm a rebel." A rebel, on an orange scooter, with a squeaky horn.

So what does a leader's choice of wheels say about him?

In Tampa, the newest mayor on the block also turns out not to be the kind of guy to follow in someone else's tire treads. (Already, there is talk of his Irish roots making for a new tradition of dyeing the Hillsborough River green for St. Patrick's Day.)

Bob Buckhorn used to tease Iorio about her little green mayor car, particularly the magnetic candy cane attached to its side for the holidays. When he took office, the city lease on her hybrid was running out, and anyway, he saw himself as more the "muscular mayor car" type.

Partly, he wanted a big, safe vehicle to take his kids to school, one that could get through high water in a disaster and also serve as a mobile mayor's office. Partly, it was Buckhorn.

From the police forfeiture lot they brought him what looks like a drug dealer's SUV off an episode of The Wire. His ride is a big, black 2005 Yukon Denali, smoked windows, 100,000 miles.

If the prospect for gas-guzzling is troublesome, well, there is the fact that it was free, courtesy of a "bad guy" and "ill-gotten gains," as the mayor puts it.

He couldn't do much about the roaring glasspack mufflers that announce his comings and goings to his neighbors. Once, when he took his youngest to kindergarten, she gathered friends around and asked him to rev it, the roar apparently being the height of humor for 5-year-olds, who fell down laughing.

He did make one modification, insisting on the removal of the 27-inch spinning hubcaps.

"Nice," says his St. Petersburg counterpart when told of the spinners.

Foster, who for the record has his own grown-up Lexus, will not confirm rumors that he has arrived on crime scenes via scooter. "That might be an urban legend," he says. He would rather a picture of the mayor of Florida's fourth largest city on a scooter "not be used against me in the next election," though you have to wonder who the anti-scooter lobby might be.

So in Tampa, a mayor rumbles down city streets in a mayor-mobile making his own mark. In St. Pete, another roams back streets on a scooter, making his. And apparently, this is how we roll.

From scooter to SUV, our mayors and how they roll 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 9:26pm]
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