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Daniel Ruth

Dreams of another term

When you've been very, very good at something for a very, very long time it is hard to walk away from the adulation, the applause, the power — the glory.

Don't you think that even into his dotage Secretariat still had the yearning for one more gallop around the track? Don't you think Luciano Pavarotti still believed he had one more high note to hit? Don't you think Muhammed Ali wanted to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee — just one-more-time?

So it hardly comes as a shock that Dick Greco, who would be 138 years old by the time of the next mayoral election, still harbors dreams of just one more crack at his old job of running Tampa. And why not? In reality, Greco may be 76 years old, but his hair is 40 — sort of.

There has never been a more entertaining or beloved — in more ways than one — political figure in Tampa's civic history. He served as mayor from 1967 to 1974 and again from 1995 to 2003. And now the former hizzoner is claiming he is asked at least 30 times a day if he will mount yet another bid for City Hall, although a cynic might wonder if at least 29 of those inquiries are coming from his wife, Linda.

With incumbent Pam Iorio term-limited out of office in 2011, the potential field of contenders to replace her includes Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, City Council Chairman Tom Scott, former council member Bob Buckhorn, former U.S. congressman Jim Davis and … well the list is endless.

Then there is — Dick. This changes everything.

I've known Greco for nearly 40 years. I remember when that hair was the real deal.

There are few public figures I've been around in all that time who were better retail pols than Dick Greco. It is almost metaphysically impossible to have lived in Tampa for any length of time and not had your bicep squeezed and been drawn into his counsel, deluded into believing he really gives a rat's patootie what you think.

If you are a woman, you know that Greco transcends political correctness. He has probably hugged, bussed and leered into your general direction and all you can say is, "Oh, that's just Dick being Dick."

There's a story about Greco mistaking the Spanish ambassador's wife for Linda as the two couples were being given a tour in the darkened Bern's Steak House wine cellar that under any other circumstances would have caused either a war, the breaking of diplomatic relations, or a duel. But this was just Dick being Dick. Instead, everybody just had dessert.

How do I — and practically everyone else — know this story? It's part of his stump speech for crying out loud.

Opinions, even among some of his closest friends and political confidants, are mixed whether Greco should have a last hurrah. Some don't want to see his public career tarnished by a loss. Others feel it is time for the city to be led by younger blood.

He probably won't like this, but it has always struck me that Dick Greco loves the idea of being mayor more than doing the mayor's job. He is not a burn-the-midnight-oil kind of guy pouring over thick budget books. He is a delegator who surrounds himself with the policy wonks to count the beans.

Rather, Greco approached the major's office as a sort of civic maitre d', giving the speeches, kissing the babies, kissing the babies' mothers, cheerleading for Tampa. He's an Ybor City Ronald Reagan.

Will Dick Greco run again? I have no idea. But I wouldn't be surprised.

Politics, especially if you are skilled at it, is addictive — the bunting, the cheering crowds, the campaign, the trappings and most obviously, the power.

And if Dick Greco decides to take a run at the mayor's office it will be because this is what Dick Greco knows. In a sense, it is all he knows. You may think you are a voter, a citizen, a resident of Tampa. To Dick Greco you are a huge lump of political crack cocaine — with a ballot in your hand.

You must be hugged. You must be flattered. You must be won over. It's what he does. It's what he knows.

Since 2003, Greco has made a good living in the private sector. He's traveled. He lives well — for a man in exile.

Thirty times a day, Greco says, people plead, cajole and implore him to run again. But the only voice that matters is coming from the man in the mirror.

Dreams of another term 10/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2009 5:47pm]
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