When Tampa's six living mayors gathered for lunch at Malio's on Thursday — surely an unprecedented moment in a city's history — the question for them afterward was obvious.
What did you order?
No, no, no. The question was what they talked about, the answer being: history and politics — like how personalized politicking had morphed from the days when West Tampa spaghetti fundraisers could draw thousands to the time of Twitter, current Mayor Bob Buckhorn being a tweeter himself. (The steak salad, since you ask.)
After lunch they stood for photos at the edge of the sprawling park that was touched by many a mayor and reopened in its latest incarnation by Pam Iorio (salmon, no sauce). Skyscrapers spread before them, the backdrop a concrete ribbon of downtown Riverwalk that was begun under 1970s mayor Bill Poe (lobster bisque, onion rings) and should be completed under Buckhorn.
Dick Greco (steak salad) seemed to have his arm around everyone at once, a trademark talent of Tampa's schmoozingest mayor. Disappointingly, our infamous strip club king Joe Redner never came up.
They talked of police shootings, their worst days as mayor.
Bob Martinez (salad) went on to be governor, and did he give tips on this to anyone else at the table? Sandy Freedman (caprese salad) reported that Buckhorn, who used to work for her, picked up the check.
Twenty percent, since you ask.
Turns out Fred Karl had a Bucket List. With people on it.
Since he had been everything from World War II hero to state Supreme Court justice to go-to fix-it guy in Tampa and Hillsborough County, it's hard to imagine Karl left anything out. But near the top of his "list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket" was a luncheon.
His health in decline ("Life is short and death is sure," he quoted in the invitation), he asked 19 "special friends" to the University Club. The guest list included politicians and public officials past and present, but also doctors, lawyers, a forensic psychiatrist, a hospital vice president, a rancher and Karl's former paralegal.
When they gathered, he had something to say of each of them. And they to him.
"During the years I've known her, I've entrusted her with the most confidential information I possessed. … She is a trusted friend," Karl said of Bridgett McCormick, once his paralegal, now the mayor's executive assistant. "She won't tell you a thing."
Karl said he wouldn't want to die without telling these people whose lives had intersected with his own "the things I have on my heart." But this was also the man who had been county and city attorney and hospital president to boot. So this lunch had a public purpose in Karl's hope of starting "relationships that might be important to each of you."
Afterward, several asked for the guest list to stay in touch. As with most things, Fred Karl did what he set out to do.
"It would be impossible," said Robert Thomas, whose family owns Two Rivers Ranch and who was Karl's friend and host at that Bucket List lunch, "to try to articulate Fred Karl."
He died last week at 88. Today people gather downtown at the convention center at 2 p.m. to remember him. Flags here and in Tallahassee will fly half-staff.