Why in the world would Fred Karl want to take over beleaguered Tampa General Hospital?
Karl's in-laws asked him that during a visit in Tallahassee over the weekend. But before the Hillsborough County Administrator could respond, his brother-in-law hit the nail on the head:
"That's what he does."
Karl has made a habit of taking the hot seat since his days in the Florida Senate in 1968, when he managed the cases of 17 public officials suspended by then-Gov. Claude Kirk. Karl did it again in 1990, when he became Hillsborough administrator, following a time of tumult and the resignation of former Administrator Larry Brown.
Karl, a 70-year-old former Florida Supreme Court justice, says Tampa General offers the kind of difficult public-administration challenge that animates him. He had planned to resign his job with the county next month and return to the private practice of law and concentrate on making money.
Now those plans are on hold for an indefinite period. So is his winter trip to Germany, where he hoped to revisit the places where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge 50 years ago.
Karl said he has several reasons for taking the hospital job.
"I'm certain ego is a matter that is involved," he said. "You don't get involved in public life if you don't have some ego problem. Not problem. Syndrome. And a desire for public service."
Karl's influence in Tallahassee, along with his relations with hospital board members, other Tampa leaders and the local media, are seen as crucial tools for the work the hospital will require. He has never run a hospital, but he feels his legislative experience with health care has given him a foundation.