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Once more unto the breach for Dick Greco

Dick Greco now becomes the only candidate for mayor of Tampa with his own statue.

They gave it to him in 2008, along with a roast to honor his two stints as mayor from 1967-1974 and 1995-2003.

It was a fine event and everybody said witty, affectionate things about him, even his successor, Pam Iorio, who is pretty much the opposite of Greco in every way.

Maybe they figured they could safely pay tribute to the Old Guy. After all, Greco had decided not to challenge Iorio for re-election in 2007, and seemed content to coast into his 70s and into the sunset.

Wrong.

Like the boxer who won't stay retired, Greco is running to be mayor of Tampa a third time. With a crowded field, his chances are as good as anybody else's, if not better — a recent poll even put him in first place.

And make no mistake. He is a great guy.

A great guy. The kind of guy who remembers your name and knows things about you and always acts like running into you is the best thing that's happened to him all day.

In short, Greco is the greatest schmoozer of all time. That does not imply insincerity — no, he is perfectly sincere in his schmoozing. The man loves people the way that most people love breathing.

Here's the downside.

Greco's buddy-buddy, back-slapping style also is exactly the way he ran the city, a throwback to an earlier era.

He loved the big deal, whether it was the tax for a new football stadium, or the Centro Ybor development that put the city on the hook for massive debt once its developers defaulted, or the mammoth parking garages he built that saddled the city with even more debt, or the plans for a scary-colossal downtown art museum that Iorio got scaled down.

Greco once joked that his successor would find a lone dollar bill in the mayor's desk drawer with a note saying, "This is all that's left." Except it wasn't that much of a joke.

His City Hall was stocked with pals and cronies, who often got into some jam or another — those wacky fellows! Iorio spent much of her eight years systematically rooting them out.

In the defining scandal of the Greco years, his housing chief, Steve LaBrake, and LaBrake's wife were sentenced to federal prison in 2005 for conspiracy, wire fraud and more than two dozen counts of bribery.

But Greco never wavered in his support of the LaBrakes despite all evidence. He took the investigations and media coverage as a personal attack, a cruel persecution. He hinted darkly that the reporters covering the story had Their Own Secrets and how would they like it if they came out?

I got the Greco treatment personally during this time and remember it vividly. His own eyes would well up as he recounted how LaBrake had come to him during the investigation and broken down in tears. The man. Was. In. TEARS!

As if upon hearing this, the listener should agree with Greco that it was okay for LaBrake to have been on the take.

Here is what U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara said as he pronounced sentence:

"What strikes me about the LaBrakes' situation is that they were part of the culture that permeates Tampa government, where you do me a favor and I'll do you a favor, even though it violates the public trust."

What the heck, though. He'll probably win.

Once more unto the breach for Dick Greco 11/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:46am]
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