Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

Malio's and mayoral schmooze on your radio dial

Of course the setting was the cozy, wood-paneled bar of downtown Tampa's schmooziest lunch spot, the place with the old-school name that makes you think of deals cut over thick steaks, old-style Tampa partying and, oh yeah, that blond bar manager who broke up Burt Reynolds' marriage.

And naturally, it involved two men who only a year earlier were battling to be the guy to run this town, only now they were having a good backslap and a friendly radio chat on everything from the Rays to (what else) lap dancing.

This is, after all, Tampa.

Dick Greco, the city's longest serving, and, if I can use the word again, schmooziest mayor, got himself a radio show on AM 820 News, live from the bar at Malio's Prime Steakhouse.

Mondays at noon, over filet tips and chopped salads, locals can watch the ex-mayor and his guest du jour chew the fat, so to speak. It is Greco's particular talent, talking intimately with pretty much anyone, anywhere, even when he is visiting a foreign country — this according to his wife, who was ensconced in a nearby booth, nibbling daintily on a wedge salad.

No surprise, either, that Greco's inaugural guest was current mayor Bob Buckhorn, the very upstart who foiled Greco's fifth bid for the job. You would think this means hard feelings, unless you have met Greco, a man who can embrace an entire room one person at a time, sometimes two. I've personally seen him do three.

Buckhorn is a starchier sort, more button-down, but still no exception to Greco's patented bicep-squeeze-with-affectionate-hand-pat maneuver, which it turns out he can accomplish even tethered to headphones. For an hour, a man who is this city's history and the one mapping its future were off on something of a lovefest — Buckhorn paying homage to mayors past, Greco complimenting progress like a planned downtown medical training facility that will mean thousands of overnight hotel stays (cha-ching!). On a commercial break, Greco tipped the crowd a wink.

He gamely tried to explain away Buckhorn's push years ago to keep strip club dancers 6 feet from patrons. Buckhorn confided the two things that keep him up at night: The threat of hurricanes, he said, and the coming-soon Republican National Convention. (That last one in a good way, he said.)

The older mayor, natty in a stylish sport coat and fancy tie, asked the younger how he always accomplished that perfect triangle of a pocket hanky, and truly, a team of NASA engineers could not have managed more precision. Buckhorn promised Greco a lesson after the show.

The men commiserated on the unprecedented nastiness of politics today. Greco got in his standard lament on how a mayor could pave the streets in gold and someone would gripe about the glare, and Buckhorn repeated his pledge not to sniff around the Rays, unless, of course, they were about to leave.

Speaking of which, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster — a dear friend of Buckhorn's, Greco assured everyone, despite talk of a muddy, ugly tug-of-war over the Rays — will soon be a guest himself. ("A delight," Foster called Greco.)

Who else, for this daily dish? Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is expected, assorted other movers and shakers, maybe an intriguing and recently-ex governor. It's Tampa, after all, and who can say no to Greco?

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