Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Phyllis Busansky's legacy of courage deserved to live on

Talk about your courage — moral, political or otherwise.

At the age of 71, a politician known in these parts mostly just as Phyllis plucked an important job from the clutches of someone who was doing it badly.

Phyllis Busansky, former county commissioner, champion of health care for the poor, true believer, big voice, big presence, beat Buddy Johnson in November to become Hillsborough's elections supervisor.

Heck, she'd already battled lung cancer. Ousting Johnson had to be a cinch when you run on a platform of reform and restoring citizen confidence — especially when your own idealistic fix-this-mess history backs you up.

And it sure says something to the world when one of your first official acts is to tear down a front office wall that your predecessor put up to shut the public out.

Her campaign slogan was phyllis!, just phyllis! The exclamation point had it about right, though there was nothing lower-case about Phyllis Busansky.

"Kid," she called you, and "fabulous!" she said, and often.

Chutzpah? Phyllis first ran for County Commission 21 years ago against a big name from the Tampa City Council, an astonishing thing to do at the time. Tom Vann, who had big billboards and a bigger war chest, was so confident he printed up refrigerator magnets urging people to vote for him in November when he hadn't even beaten her in the primary yet.

She ran a good-guy grass roots campaign, limited donations to $100 and handed him his hat.

After the sad news of her sudden and unexpected death spread across town Tuesday — she had only just started again, after all — talk in offices and over lunches inevitably turned to her replacement.

Who will our Republican governor, with his own aspirations, pick in the place of a Democrat just put in office by the voters? And I suddenly felt embarrassed. Already we were talking politics when the news about Phyllis still didn't seem possible.

But then, wasn't that exactly what you could see her doing — thinking ahead to protecting a legacy of openness and competence, given the realities of party politics and political ambitions?

Which brings us to an irony of timing I think maybe Phyllis, a woman whose laugh you could hear across any crowded campaign event, might appreciate.

It had to do with the late Ralph Hughes, a powerful conservative Republican businessman known for giving big bucks to candidates who supported his views.

Last year, five county commissioners who oh-by-the-way took campaign money from him voted to name their most prestigious prize, the Moral Courage Award, for Hughes.

Problem? This award is supposed to go to someone who stands up to government to make this a better place to live. To name it for a millionaire who opposed taxes and regulation and gave out campaign money was to many people a slap in the face. One recipient gave her award back.

So on the same day we learned the sad news about Phyllis Busansky came headlines that told us the IRS says Hughes owed $69.3 million in unpaid taxes.

Time for another renaming? If they called it the Phyllis Award, people around here would know who you meant, and why.

Phyllis Busansky's legacy of courage deserved to live on 06/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 8:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay's Top 100 Workplaces deadline extended to Nov. 17


    Think you work at one of the best places in Tampa Bay? You've got a little more time to make a pitch.

    Penny Hoarder and Gregory, Sharer & Stuart were among those at an event in Tampa last May honoring winners of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces awards. Nominations are now open for this year.  
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  2. Little separates McElwain and Muschamp eras of futility at Florida


     Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain watches the second quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.
  3. Tampa-based Checkers testing delivery, aims for record expansion


    TAMPA — Tampa-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants continues to fly under the radar compared to dominant burger chains like McDonald's and Burger King.

    Checkers Franchisee Shaji Joseph, of Tampa, hoses down the front walkway of his store at 6401 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park. The business has a new look including signage and exterior tile. One drive through has been eliminated for an outdoor dining area, right. Joseph owns nine Checkers and is planning to open his tenth in Tampa.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times ]
  4. Advice for presidents from military families they've tried to console


    One family returned the letter because it was full of errors. Another was left cold when the letter they got screamed "robo-pen." Still another was puzzled to find 17 copies of their letter in the mailbox.

    Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Cowan, 37, was killed in a helicopter training accident in South Korea on Feb. 26, 2005. [Courtesy of Kari Cowan]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, Oct. 20


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    At last year's Dia de los Muertos, Casa Tina owner Tina Marie Avila (crouching) shows her "Ofrenda," or Day of the Dead alter. What would have been the 25th annual Dia de los Muertos Fiesta on Saturday had to be canceled this year because of Hurricane Irma. The folk festival will be back next year.
 [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times (2016)]