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Tampa mayor pays a visit to familiar territory

Dick Greco knows a thing or two about west Pasco.

Gulf View Square was one of the first mall projects he tackled after moving from Tampa City Hall to the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. in the mid 1970s. Driving from his office in Tampa to the old Pasco County administration building in New Port Richey meant one thing to the past and present Tampa mayor:

"I was always late to the commission meetings because of the traffic."

No need to be melancholy about the good old days on that topic. West side traffic remains problematic with unsafe conditions on U.S. 19 and delays to widening state roads 54 and 52.

But, the mayor used the Suncoast Parkway on Wednesday to reach west Pasco for a visit to the New Port Richey Rotary Club. It gave him a chance to enjoy the scenery. It's not his first time doing it. He drove to Citrus County when the highway opened last year for the same purpose. Again, this was familiar territory since Greco also helped develop the mall in Crystal River.

Drives in the countryside are a pleasure. Three weeks ago, it was Ruskin in southern Hillsborough. He likes Dade City and thrice-a-year visits to Lunch on Limoges. A couple of times a year, he shoots at the Tampa Bay Sporting Clays range along Ehren Cutoff in central Pasco. Two weeks ago, he attended the Little Everglades steeplechase races in east Pasco.

And who knows? After term limits force him from office next year, maybe Greco will be back in Pasco County pitching a new mall. His former associates already have land near Interstate 75 and the new State Road 56 targeted for a mall in roughly seven years. Greco figures real estate development and consulting work are in his future.

That is Dick Greco. He appreciates the beauty of rural Florida while touting the convenience of an urbanized mall. He laments poverty while talking about his own giant screen television that rolls down from the ceiling. He is somber about the terrorism of Sept. 11 then admits he "was almost glad to see a bad guy dead instead of what it could have been" at the scene of a Tampa police shooting. He wants to improve Tampa's neighborhoods, but seeks to spend most of the city's proceeds from a sales tax increase on a museum as the centerpiece of downtown art district. He calls Pasco a diverse community without acknowledging the roomful of movers and shakers includes only two minorities _ Pasco Hernando Community College president Dr. Robert Judson and Eugene Scott, founder of the Afro-American Club in Pine Hill.

Greco shared some of these contradictory thoughts in a meandering 30-minute speech to the Rotarians and interview afterward. The talk at times bordered on what a colleague aptly characterized as Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. His parents' hardware store, the days before air conditioning and the close neighbors on the street where he spent his Tampa childhood all drew mentions.

Along the way he was critical of the media for being one-sided, said writers of letters to newspapers need to check their facts, and suggested it is more difficult to be in public office today than it was 30 years ago. Tough. Public scrutiny shouldn't fall by the wayside just because you're charming.

And there was no shortage of charisma. He shook hands, squeezed arms and said "See ya, Baby" to Commissioner Ann Hildebrand as the crowd dispersed. That, too, is Dick Greco. He works a room in a patriarchal manner, gender bias and all.

Greco came to New Port Richey at the invitation of Bob Kimbrough, a member of Sheriff Bob White's staff. The mayor visited Holiday four years ago at the request of the past sheriff. But Greco's speech to the Crime Watch conference that day was overshadowed by Lee Cannon's public observation that everybody was out to get him.

No such sentiment came Wednesday. White picked up a check for $2,000 from the Rotarians and several endorsements from Greco that the Pasco Sheriff's Office needs additional resources.

"Every time you upgrade those positions, you upgrade your community," said Greco.

Commissioners Steve Simon, Ted Schrader and Hildebrand shared a table with White. They didn't look like they are willing to whip out the county's checkbook, just yet.

They know a thing or two about west Pasco, too.

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