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Former Mayor Sandra Freedman, part II: Accomplishment and controversy

First woman mayor tells of her sporadically challenging time in office.
Former Tampa Mayor Sandra Freedman increased the size of the Police Department by more than 20 percent.
Former Tampa Mayor Sandra Freedman increased the size of the Police Department by more than 20 percent. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 26

Times Correspondent

Sandra Warshaw Freedman, 78, who was Tampa’s City Council Chairwoman, became mayor when Bob Martinez resigned for his successful run for governor. Freedman was elected for two terms. As the first woman to serve as mayor, she held office from 1986 to 1995.

She said she’s proud that the programs she started, like Paint Your Heart Out (Tampa) – volunteers painting houses for people who can’t afford to pay for it – are still operating.

“The Mayor’s Beautification (Program) has morphed into the entire county. We did the Hillsborough River cleanup. It was all volunteers, because we really didn’t have any (money).’’

She talked with the Tampa Bay Times about her time in office and her days as an amateur tennis champion. This is the second part of a two-part Weekly Conversation. The first part ran last Sunday. (Go to https://bit.ly/3IehxhV.

You won a seat on the City Council in 1974. What made you decide to run then?

In 1965, Mike (Freedman) and I met on a blind date, and we got married 10 weeks later. I was still playing non-competitive tennis. Then, I started to have children. (Mike) was a young practicing lawyer. ... We had three kids- two boys and a girl. ... We had built that house on Davis Island, and I would watch this little tiny TV while I was cooking dinner. On the 6 o’clock news, I saw that Dick Greco had resigned, and I knew that a fellow named Vince Malloy… would run for mayor. … I remember calling Mike and saying, “Dick Greco resigned and I’m going to run for Vince Malloy’s seat on the City Council.” And he said, “Don’t do anything till I get home.” ... when (Mike) came home, we talked about it, and the next day I announced I was running for City Council.

In this February 19, 1987 photo, Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman was addressing the media regarding the riots and unrest in Tampa.
In this February 19, 1987 photo, Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman was addressing the media regarding the riots and unrest in Tampa. [ PEASE, MIKE | St Petersburg Times ]

You expanded the police department to attack crack cocaine dealers. How did you do it?

We were able to expand the police department, but it was at the price of taking the cars (that officers drove home). …

When my predecessor had been there, they did an audit. The internal auditor did an audit of the take-home cars. You don’t remember that? I have scars to show you. … We had about 700, 800 sworn officers, and they were all allowed to take their cars home. We paid for the gas and insurance, and we were paying $200,000 a month extra for those two things. And we were among the lowest in the state in terms of the number of police officers per thousand… and they were among the lowest paid in the state.

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I got that audit. It was done but nobody knew about that audit. (Bob) Martinez was running for governor and he didn’t want to get in that controversy, so they did the audit and put it aside. And then Lou Prida, who was the auditor, came to me early on. … We didn’t have any money, and he said, “Here’s this.’’

So, I said to the head of the police union… “You want the cars or you want back up, more police officers and better pay?’’ (He said,) “We want back up, more police officers and better pay.’’ …

I took all the cars. God help me. All hell broke loose. And the union president said, “Oh, I didn’t say that. I wanted the cars and the money and the officers.’’ … And now they take their cars to five counties, and it’s in their union contract. I can’t imagine what it costs now. We got 100 more police officers and they went to second in the state, I think it was, in pay.

You established a policy prohibiting city employees from using racial, religious or sexual slurs or provocations. What prompted that?

Well, it’s still in effect. I had dinner last night with a city staff person and asked about it, and it is still in effect. Some people have been dismissed for it, as they should have been. It started because we really had some racists – I heard about them… in the police department. One was a chief. The people who are the targets of those slurs would rarely come forward. We had nothing in place. … It made their lives miserable and sometimes they would quit. … I knew we had to do something, so we crafted that policy. …

There was a deputy chief or major, a really good guy in the police department, (who) was fired for using the n-word. And he was reported by one of his senior staff who he was walking with. They were in Ybor City and he used it, and it really hurt the guy who – he was so unhappy that he had to report him, but he knew he did. And it hurt us because he was a really good guy and I’m not sure he was using it, really, in a profane way. But he was using it, and it didn’t matter which way, you weren’t supposed to use it. ... It was hard for everybody because we all knew him, but it had to be. And they knew we meant business. And it’s not just the police department; it’s every department.

You were at one time ranked fifth in the nation among amateur players. When did you start playing?

My father took me to the tennis courts when I was five years old. My father was a tennis player. … I had a little tiny racket… that he found somewhere, and there was a backboard. And he would give me some balls and I would hit against the backboard, or try to hit, and I did that for years. Then when I was nine, I started playing in tournaments. And then I started playing all over the country. …

You had to stop playing tennis competitively. Why?

I had and still have terrible leg cramps. I mean terrible. I was on crutches for three weeks at one point while I was playing tennis. They just wouldn’t stop. … They still don’t know really what causes them. … I would go out and I would play and the cramps would start, and I couldn’t function.

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