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Police chief says thanks, hints at plans

As dozens of neighborhood activists nibbled on Godiva chocolates and drank punch from tiny plastic cups in the foyer of the Tampa Aquarium, Police Chief Bennie Holder grinned and shook hands with everyone who walked past him.

Called "The Chief's Coffee," the party is an annual event for Holder, who, throughout the years, has used it as a thank-you soiree for his neighborhood watch captains and community policing experts.

This was was Holder's last such party. He will retire sometime in 2003 _ at the earliest, when a new Tampa mayor is elected in March. At the latest, in August, when he is required to leave under a state retirement program.

But on Thursday night at the aquarium, Holder didn't sound like a man preparing for a leisurely life.

"I'm trying not to get into retirement mode," Holder said. He was wearing a charcoal-grey pinstripe suit. He had all the accessories _ the cream-colored tie, the matching handkerchief, the outlines of the suspenders under his jacket.

No retirement sweat pants here.

He turned to a reporter.

"You live in the county?" Holder asked.

The reporter said no.

"You might want to move to Hillsborough County," he said. "So you can vote for me."

Holder? A candidate? For what?

"That's all he'll say," said his spokeswoman, Katie Hughes, who stood near the chief when he made his remarks.

Holder slipped away in his shiny brown leather loafers and shook more hands. Later, he graciously handed out awards to the people who organized new neighborhood watch groups around the city.

Holder has been chief for almost 10 years, an officer with the department for nearly 30. He is the city's first black chief, and if he were to run for, say, Hillsborough County sheriff in 2004, it would be another first.

The idea that Holder would run for office surprises some. Others, such as George Coull, a 43-year Tampa resident and a neighborhood watch coordinator, weren't shocked at all when they heard that Holder may be a budding politician.

"I don't see why not," Coull said.

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