TAMPA — Less than a week into his latest campaign for Tampa mayor, Dick Greco tells the old stories with the same gusto, but this time the problems have changed.
A city budget with a hole in the bottom. Street corners crowded with beggars. A baseball team with an uncertain future.
"The next four years will be the most challenging for any government in my lifetime," Greco said. "The main problem is going to be money."
By the time Greco entered the mayor's race last week, a poll showed him in front of the other six announced candidates. What had been a scrum became a chase.
"He becomes everybody's target," said former City Council member Scott Paine, an associate professor of communication, government and world affairs at the University of Tampa.
Though much could change by Tampa's March 1 election day, Greco said he's already working on plans for his first days on the job.
He said he sees no need for immediate changes at City Hall. Police Chief Jane Castor is doing a good job, he said. He's not sure whether he would again hire someone like Sam Halter, the career city manager he brought in to handle administrative chores in 1995.
And forget about a tax increase for practically anything, he said.
"I know how to do what needs to be done, but I'm afraid it's going to be more of, 'This is why I make this decision and this is who helped make it and we'd love to hear from you,' " he said. "It's not going to be pulling a rabbit out of a hat."
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The first problem facing any new mayor will be city finances.
With property tax revenues on the decline, the city balanced its $787 million budget this year by taking $12 million out of reserves. That came on top of using $19 million officials had saved through cutting costs the previous year.
To tackle such problems, Greco said he would turn to his vast network of friends in the business community.
"What I will do immediately, and I've already started, is put together small coalitions of the most intelligent, learned people I can find in various areas that pertain to government," he said.
For the budget, Greco said he wants people such as retired banker David Straz Jr. and former Walter Industries CEO Don DeFosset.
These would be volunteers, Greco said, though they might have an office at City Hall.
Greco would name similar teams to look at business recruitment and environmental issues. And he would want neighborhood leaders to come together in the same way.
"People are willing to do that," he said. "I know. I have asked a number of them. I would have that done and be ready to go probably by the time I'm elected."
He's not the only one thinking ahead, of course. Former City Council member Bob Buckhorn talks of meeting with employees to make sure they know about his priorities to create jobs and be more competitive as a city. Former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said meeting and winning the confidence and trust of employees is vital to a smooth transition.
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When it comes to the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, Greco said one thing is certain.
"Tax increases for stadiums or baseball ... are pretty much out of the question," he said. "It's just not going to happen."
But in other ways, Greco is open to the possibilities. He welcomes Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce chairman Chuck Sykes' talk about having venture capitalists look at the issue.
Such work is not about Tampa coveting the Rays, Greco said. He'd love to see the team in Tampa, but first he wants them to stay in Tampa Bay.
"If, in fact, the Rays say one day there's no way in the world we want to be in St. Petersburg or we're going to leave, then everybody should get together to do the next best thing (and) keep them in the Tampa Bay area," Greco said. If they move somewhere else in St. Petersburg, "I'd go to the ribbon-cutting."
As for his own private-sector work, Greco said he has been winding down his mediation business in preparation for the campaign.
He said he also has done a little land-development consulting work, including for Republic Land Development of Fairfax, Va. That company has explored building hotels, restaurants, shops and a sports complex on about half the Florida State Fair's 346 acres east of Tampa.
Republic's designs have included a soccer complex, and there has been talk of golf, tennis and lacrosse, but the company said this spring that fair officials could ask for changes.
Greco said he would help Republic as much as he could free of charge up until the election, but "if I'm elected mayor, of course, will do nothing."
The fairgrounds have been speculated about as a spot for a possible baseball stadium, but Greco said "really, that's not what it was about to begin with."
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Another issue Greco said he gets asked about virtually everywhere he goes is whether Tampa, like St. Petersburg, should ban panhandling.
He doesn't know.
Greco said he often gives money to the people in the medians and, being Dick Greco, has joined homeless people under a tree to chat. Mental illness is a problem with many, but it's not safe and doesn't look good, so something will have to be done, he said.
"It is a difficult, difficult problem, which, if the economy doesn't right itself, will get worse," he said.