The green and white cruisers gathered in the parking lot behind the Hudson Village Inn late Thursday night. It was probably just one of many such law enforcement rendezvous, as deputies were learning that their boss would be listed in the next day's political obituaries.
Whether these particular deputies were glad about that, it is obvious that many of their brethren were anxious to tip a few. Others were just plain anxious.
That's because Jim Gillum will remain as sheriff through the end of the year. And he's not the kind of individual who is likely to go away without generating a few sizable tremors. He indicated as much after Bill Rowan hammered him in the Republican primary runoff when he said he could do some things now that he might not have tried earlier because of the political ramifications.
How comforting that must be to the 18 people on the so-called "hit list" that former Chief Deputy Jim Francis revealed last month. Some of them are convinced the purge will begin as early as today, and they are concerned about getting by without a paycheck for three months.
As long as he is sheriff, Gillum can do just about whatever he wants with his personnel. Given his bitterness, it is no wonder that employees _ and other residents and officials concerned about the general welfare of Pasco County _ are anxious.
Though the position still commands respect, what can a sheriff so resoundly rejected by his own political party expect from troops that he judges troublesome? It speaks ill of the elected sheriff system that the main man could be fired but stick around for three months in total charge of such a critical service.
It will be interesting to see whether Gillum holds to his promise not to talk to Times reporters. Throughout his stormy eight years in office, he always remained accessible, even when it was clear that he had booted something. That candor _ or cockiness, as it were _ was part of his undoing. Gillum, through his own words, came across like he could do no wrong. And when it was clear that he could, he refused to say those simple words that would have made everything better: "I'm sorry; I was wrong."
Gillum is human. He can even be charming, a nice guy. He has a sense of humor and has initiated many improvements in the department. But his anger and arrogance alienated even his closest friends. He did himself no good when he answered a reporter's fair but critical question about his relationship with a drug smuggler by extending his middle finger. But it was vintage Gillum.
He seemed to enjoy crafting his image as the tough head cop. He yelled at and politically threatened county commissioners who sought to hold the line on his spending. He criticized judges as being too soft when they complied with federal mandates to reduce jail overcrowding. He talked big and loud, but there was more style than substance, and the people figured it out.
The guy who defeated Gillum, former Deputy Bill Rowan, is virtually his opposite. He is, at times, excruciatingly humble. On election night, his comment to a reporter was, "For a little guy like me, this is mind-boggling."
Rowan is easy to like. He's been around here a long time and has proved his worthiness. But he's not the most articulate individual, nowhere near as polished as the man he must face in the general election Nov. 3 _ lawyer Lee Cannon. Though Cannon has had to weather criticism because he once worked for Gillum as the department's attorney, he will be nowhere near as susceptible to attack as was the sheriff.
Cannon has excellent credentials _ vast experience in law enforcement and expert knowledge of Florida law. Rowan will appeal most to the guys in the trenches, Cannon to the people who seek more sophisticated leadership.
Much can happen between now and Nov. 3. But without offering any early endorsements, it would seem that the star is Cannon's to lose.