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Daniel Ruth

Dick Greco: A victim of Tampa's chronic indifference

It's always a bittersweet sight when night descends for the final time on a political career.

For Dick Greco, Tampa's aging lion in the winter of his public days, this was the realization he had at last gone a campaign too far.

We've all seen this before, and it's painful to watch. Michael Jordan trying to squeeze out just one more glorious moment on the court. A virtually crippled Mickey Mantle hobbling to the plate for just one more swing. Joe Namath feebly trying to outrun a clock on knees that barely bent.

Time is cruel on the hustings, too. And as the 77-year-old Greco stood on a stage at Higgins Hall Tuesday night, he delivered much more than a concession speech. This was a eulogy closing the lid on a 44-year political career.

Greco wanted to be mayor of Tampa for a fifth time. The voters, what few of them there were, had other ideas. The city's longtime civic maitre d', official groper and poster child for Botox, finished third in a five-way primary election, denied a spot in a runoff on March 22 by 384 votes.

When a candidate such as Greco watches his political legacy die by less than 400 votes there is no shortage of conjecture as to what happened. How did a presumptive front-runner turn into a footnote?

Take your pick, and you'll probably be onto something. To be sure, all the hair dye and injections in an attempt to make Greco look like Tampa's answer to Julio Iglesias came off as a near octogenarian trying too hard to fool people.

His hair may have said 40-ish, but his walk said Walter Brennan. There was a joke going around that Greco used to love to flirtatiously grab onto beautiful women he met on the stump and that now he was doing it to simply hang on.

Comparing Tampa's racial unrest in the 1960s as little more than a "panty raid" probably didn't help, either.

Still, Greco has been saying and doing crazy, embarrassing stuff for years, and it only endeared him to voters as simply "Dickie being Dickie."

So a case might be made that Greco was a victim of chronic indifference.

Tuesday's election attracted a mere 22 percent of the city's registered voters. Or put another way, 78 percent of Tampa's registered voters couldn't be bothered to get off their keisters and dedicate literally five minutes of their time to casting a ballot.

As if that wasn't shameful enough: Of the 1,422 registered voters at the University of South Florida, only seven over a 12-hour election day found the wherewithal to show up and cast a ballot.

If Dick Greco could have persuaded just four additional voters in each of Tampa's 121 precincts to vote for him, he would be facing Rose Ferlita in the run-off election.

If this reads a little bit like hectoring, well, it is.

We do more than take voting for granted in this country. We regard it as an inconvenience. We've become inured to its importance.

Across Africa and the Middle East, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets at great risk to oppose their dictatorial rulers and demand democratic reforms, such as fair elections.

But vast numbers of Tampa residents can't be bothered to cast a vote for mayor.

In Iraq, where nearly 5,000 American military personnel have died to create some semblance of democracy, frail though it is, citizens of that country have braved death threats in order to cast a ballot.

But 78 percent of registered Tampa voters didn't have a moment to spare to decide who will lead the city for the next four years.

For weeks prior to Tuesday's election, Tampa residents could have taken advantage of early voting or cast an absentee ballot. Too busy. Nobody was threatening to shoot them — or blow up their house, or kidnap their children — if they cast a ballot.

The worst thing that would happen to a Tampa voter who engaged in the most basic act of civic responsibility would be that some complete dimwit might get elected. The republic can survive that. It always has.

Tampa is hardly alone in being made up of ballot box deadbeats. Election cycles in Pinellas County also reflect the same dismal levels of voter participation.

There might be some who will defend abdicating their right to vote by huffing no candidate deserved their vote. That is so much piffle. All five mayoral candidates were able people, and most of the Tampa City Council candidates were perfectly capable of doing the job.

Democracy is not easy, nor is it for the lazy. Given the meager voter turnout Tuesday, this was Tampa's guffaw directed toward Lady Liberty.

Dick Greco: A victim of Tampa's chronic indifference 03/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 12:51pm]
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