TAMPA — Did Dick Greco make a harmless joke, or stumble into another panty raid moment?
City Council Chairman Thomas Scott, the only black candidate in the race for mayor, says he was shocked when Greco, asked what job he would give Scott in a Greco administration, said Scott could "drive me" on a night on the town.
Greco's comment came at the end of a candidate forum for young professionals Wednesday evening. It was set up by a playful exchange on a different topic just a few minutes earlier.
Near the end of the event, the candidates were asked who among them would be the designated driver if they went to MacDinton's, a popular South Tampa nightspot. Their unanimous choice was Scott, a Church of God minister. Amid laughter, Scott even pointed to himself.
Two minutes later, the candidates were asked what job in their administration they would give to the man on their left — Rose Ferlita was absent — if they were elected mayor.
Greco, who is seeking his fifth term as mayor and is the presumed front-runner, turned to Scott and said, "to drive me after we went to MacDinton's."
The line got a laugh from the 200 people at the forum, according to a video of the event, but one woman said, "Did he just say, 'Drive me' ? " Scott laughed and covered his eyes with one hand, but he said Thursday that Greco's comment wasn't funny.
"I was kind of shocked," Scott said. "What was going through my mind (was), 'You mean to tell me, chairman of City Council, a 14-year distinguished career as an elected official, I was only worthy to be hired as a driver?'
"Well, this is not the movie Driving Miss Daisy," Scott added. "It was offensive, even though he came back later and apologized. He came to me personally and apologized. He said he liked me, and he didn't mean for that to offend me."
But Greco said he has not apologized to Scott, nor would he, because "there wasn't anything to apologize about."
Scott "knows good and well I didn't say anything ugly about him," Greco said. "It wasn't a comment that he was going to be my chauffeur or something. That would be stupid. It was joking about who you would have drive you home from MacDinton's."
During a candidate forum Thursday night in historically black East Tampa, Greco told the crowd, "I am not a prejudiced person." Then he went a step farther, telling Scott he was "hurt" by the accusation.
"Rev. Scott, I love you, and I read the Bible, and I forgive what you did last night, because it's not right," Greco said. "Not what I did, what you did."
Mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik said he was "pretty stunned" by Greco's "drive me" remark.
"I'm sure it was in jest, but everyone else gave serious answers, and I thought it was really demeaning of Tom's years of service," Turanchik said.
Wednesday night's exchange came less than a week after Greco apologized publicly for comparing Tampa's race riots of the late 1960s to a panty raid.
Greco apologized for the remark, saying: "They had every right to take offense to that. It's one of the dumbest things I've ever (said) in my life."
But Greco said the "drive me" comment was altogether different and is being exploited for political gain. He defended his record on race relations, noting that during his first terms as mayor he hired the city's first black firefighter, assistant city attorney and housing director and had launched job training programs.
"To have people use this type of thing for political reasons is terrible," Greco said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.