Was it only two weeks ago that Phyllis Busansky plopped down on borrowed furniture in her county office and talked about all the changes she had in store as Hillsborough County's elections supervisor? That was the wonder Friday as hundreds gathered at a Tampa temple to share a final story about Busansky, who was found dead Tuesday at the age of 72. Her death leaves a huge void. Against the backdrop of a busy news cycle, it also indicates how far Hillsborough has strayed from the ideal of public service.
Busansky's death came during a week of extremes. It started on Sunday, when sheriff's deputies arrested former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair and charged him with two felony counts of child abuse. The former professional wrestler- turned Christian conservative politician allegedly punched and choked his 17-year-old son and grabbed and punched a younger son. A self-described longtime friend of Blair's went on a media blitz, painting the 17-year-old as a problem child and the former commissioner as "the victim." Morning-drive radio hosts lapped it up.
It was also reported this week that the IRS claims deceased Tampa industrialist Ralph Hughes owes $69 million in back taxes. Hughes was a driving force in county politics, pushing an antitax agenda and donating heavily to county races. After his death last year, commissioners honored Hughes by naming the county's Moral Courage Award after him. Now maybe county commissioners will come to their senses and rename the award.
Busansky did not talk much about family values or moral courage. She did brag about her "brilliant" husband and her kids. She also spoke up, as her friends were quick to remind Friday, for people who had no clout. She was proud of her crowning achievement as a county commissioner: the creation of a county sales tax to fund indigent health care. Busansky took the model nationwide. She saw nothing onerous in adding a half-penny to the price of a soda so that a poor child could see a doctor.
The events of the past week crystallize not only how the ethos of public service has changed but the reasons that drew Busansky back to political life. She saw in greater voter participation the antidote to self-serving politics. Only two weeks ago, she herded her senior staff for a group photo to celebrate a new office logo: "We the People." Like Phyllis, it was simple, straightforward — and effective.