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Greco demurs, but eyes sparkle

Published Dec. 27, 2006

Dick Greco blew off the question with that get-over-it wave of the hand that made him so maddening and likeable as Tampa's mayor. "Why would I want to run again?" he asked the other night, holding court outside Fly, downtown's hottest new restaurant. He's a developer again, making money, enjoying time with his wife. As he lists the reasons against, twice, his eyes sparkle like a Christmas tree; in the spirit of the season, you almost believe him.

Greco's interest in running again is a gift to the holiday's slow news cycle. He was mayor of Tampa in the 1960s and 70s and again from 1995 to 2003. He is a big-vision guy who blows through the yellow light and inspires people to get things done. So it's no surprise his friends are encouraging him to run this spring against Mayor Pam Iorio, a technocrat focused on improving services to the neighborhoods.

Greco says he will decide in January. Yet it is hard to see a candidacy here. He speaks well of Iorio, though they are opposites, and genuinely seems to be enjoying his return to private life. At 73, he is as smooth as ever, slim, sharp, ever positive. Greco also has a hard time telling people no. That loyalty has helped and hurt him. He might be stalling because leaving office helped Greco see the difference between what he and others wanted from his life.

Then there's the platform. Iorio put the brakes on Greco's art museum, cleaned house at City Hall and made decisionmaking more transparent. What does that leave Greco to run on? Spending $70-million on a museum? Fast-tracking permits for developers? More for the trolley? Even if Greco backed urban rail, the next big-ticket project, his past spending would make it a more difficult sell than for Iorio, who has been tight with the purse. Greco has not had a contested election in 12 years. He has not had to answer to voters for the financial losses of Centro Ybor or the corruption scandal in his administration's housing department. Running against a popular incumbent also would require a political transformation in Tampa, where the business community has always been afraid to back a challenger.

The match would be good theater, though, for it would force two political heavyweights, both of whom have had fairly easy rides, to venture outside their comfort zones. Iorio is more personable than critics give her credit for. The business community's dissatisfaction with her also is overstated. Greco had a loose way of managing, but he saw public service as noble, nonetheless, and he turned his love for the city into a powerful tool of executive authority. For him, the decision, if it's yet to be made, might boil down to a gut assessment of whether he's done enough.