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In race for Tampa mayor, time shifted under ex mayor Dick Greco

You could have asked practically anyone: Dick Greco was about to be Tampa's next mayor.

The four young(er) candidates must have done spit-takes when they heard the guy who had done the job four times already planned to take the title of Greco the Fifth. At 77, by the way.

One of the best-known names in Tampa politics, Greco got in late and raised buckets of money anyway. He grinned at you from Day-Glo orange signs that stretched from Port Tampa to New Tampa. He back-patted, shoulder-squeezed and air-kissed his way across the city.

Of course he would make the runoff. (As one of his grandchildren might say: Duh.) Probably win it, too.

This was, after all, a man who never met a stranger, who loved everyone, who governed since the 1960s on schmooze, charm and friendship. This was the politician who stood beside an embattled Charlie Crist and said: Can't we all just get along? (The answer being: Apparently not.) He was a mayor who helped build his city, though his critics say he tended to give away the farm in the process.

So how did Greco lose?

Was it his age? Was it a push past the days of deals sealed over steak-and-martini lunches in smoky restaurants? (Yes, younger readers, in the olden days, people actually smoked in restaurants.) Was it the gaffes that, back in the day, might have passed without comment?

At a debate, Greco likened a Tampa race riot to a panty raid, offending some and sending others frantically Googling to find out what a panty raid was. In one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, he said as mayor he would make pastor Tom Scott, the only black candidate, his driver. Clearly, Greco was carrying on the joke from a previous, lighthearted question about who you would pick to be your designated driver on a night of carousing, with no malice or ugliness intended.

But in the days after, you could hear the collective groan: Dude, you just don't say that.

Age, you say? How fun to see Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda at 70 mopping the floor with an opponent half his age. Like Greco, getting ugly is not his style, even when hecklers yelled "old school" at him at political events.

Miranda, who neither tweets nor texts, got 62 percent of the vote. He wouldn't say this, but there's your old school right there.

Greco faced four formidable opponents, each with significant political street cred. The sands of time had shifted under him. This week, he lost his first race.

He says he wants to be remembered as a nice guy, and even those who do not like how he ran a city would not disagree. He is a nice man with a good heart who knows the art of the deal.

He says he is done with politics. But Tampa could do worse than having someone like Greco at the table as we try to woo business, jobs and industry. "He can put people together even when they don't like each other," says his old friend, Miranda. Imagine Greco as the face of Tampa when the Republican National Convention comes to town. Talk about bridging gaps.

Yes, "wooing" sounds as old school as panty raids, but it's one of his best-honed skills. And you have to think this city is a better place with Greco out there squeezing biceps, kissing cheeks and sealing those deals.

In race for Tampa mayor, time shifted under ex mayor Dick Greco 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 9:57pm]
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