Daniel Ruth

Don't count out the wise old heads

"You know, I think Konrad Adenauer was 92 when he was chancellor of Germany," whispered Monsignor Laurence Higgins as Dick Greco, who is at least 127, basked in the adoration of the assembled crowd at the Hotel Intercontinental.

It was right about then I struggled — unsuccessfully — with the imagery of the Tampa City Council as Mayberry's answer to the Reichstag.

Only in Tampa politics would a man running for mayor be compared to a post-World War II head of state. In a city which prides itself on honoring a fictional, rapacious pirate every year, it is probably part of Tampa's delusional charm.

Actually, Higgins was just a bit off. Adenauer was, in fact, 73, when he took over the levers of power in Bonn back in 1949, although he was 87 by the time he left the job.

But given that Greco is old enough to have been entertaining a cocktail waitress, or two, next door to Babe Ruth's room at the old Tampa Bay Hotel, it is understandable why his loyal supporters are trying to deflect the birthday issue by bringing up all manner of drooling leaders who governed on the strength of not much more than a pulse and a breathing tube.

A more apt comparison might be Juan Peron, who was 78 when he became president of Argentina for the third time, only to keel over a year later. Like Greco, Peron also had a perky blond wife. The two men also appear to have been nipped and tucked so often they started to look younger than the Gerber baby.

Dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco ruled Spain for decades and spent the last year or so of his reign hooked up to more tubes and wires than the space shuttle before going to that Inquisition in the sky days before his 83rd birthday.

Winston Churchill served a second term as Britain's prime minister when he was 77, about the same as Greco, who is old enough to have hung out with Santo Trafficante when he was just a juvenile delinquent stealing hubcaps.

China has a long history of appointing leaders who are so long in the tooth they make Greco look like a peppy pipsqueak, and throughout the years of the old Soviet Union we saw a succession of premiers who were more embalmed than Lenin. In fact, one might argue Moscow almost preferred heads of state who were already dead.

And the Vatican seems to favor pontiffs whose AARP membership cards are in the single digits.

Little wonder then that Higgins, who is 83, regards his old friend Dick Greco, who introduced Hernando de Soto to Déjà Vu Showgirls, as a virtual Mouseketeer on the stump.

To be sure, Greco's birth certificate, which reflects he was born when the city was still known as Fort Brooke, will be an issue during the coming mayoral race.

But during Greco's formal announcement of his candidacy Monday, the packed ballroom represented a crowd of Tampa's movers and shakers who couldn't care less that their man once bounced Grandpa Walton on his knee.

His more youthful opponents, former City Council member Bob Buckhorn and former county commissioners Ed Turanchik and Rose Ferlita, along with current council member Tom Scott, may hype their more youthful vigor. But Greco has pretty well sucked the financial air out of the campaign by lining up local potentates, moguls and hotsy-tots John Sykes and Davis Straz, two men who could buy the rest of the city with their watches, to be his fundraisers.

Also discreetly hanging around Monday night was one of the nation's savviest political consultants, Adam Goodman, who in advising the Greco campaign probably has one of the easiest jobs in his career. After all, how much heavy consulting lifting does it take to simply say: "Let Dick be Dick"?

How well-oiled is the Greco mayoral effort? Good grief, he even had Tampa's poet laureate, James Tokley, on hand Monday to deliver a special verse just for the occasion. Tokely waxed eloquent about the pol's bow being strung for another day and calling upon the candidate to keep his arrow straight, which if you know anything about Greco has never been much of a problem for him.

I love James Tokley, who is wonderful man. But I always fear on these occasions that the poet runs the risk of going off into Beowulfesque heights — a poem, by the way, Dick Greco read when it was still in the first edition.

Don't count out the wise old heads 12/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 2, 2010 6:45pm]

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