Lately, Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick finds himself in demand.
Powerful people who have never asked to meet with him in his seven years of representing the city's less affluent neighborhoods — on everything from public pools to police power to whether chickens should roam Ybor City with impunity — would like a meeting.
Why? Mayor Bob Buckhorn may soon be tapped to run as gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham's lieutenant governor. This would make Reddick, who is the council's chairman, next in line to ascend and complete Buckhorn's last eight months. It would also make Reddick the first African-American mayor in Tampa history. And yes, we do like a little plot twist in our politics around here.
"It would be a great opportunity," says Reddick, 62, that "would bring diversity to city government in a meaningful position."
It's still just a possibility, but tongues are already awag about what a Reddick administration might look like.
He is not shy on City Council. Early on, he duked it out with the mayor over opening a city pool so some east Tampa kids could swim during the long hot summers like kids in tonier South Tampa. He pushed for a strong citizen board to review police actions, sparking this memorable and very-Tampa tableau:
The council was electing its chairperson who would be a heartbeat away from becoming the powerful mayor. Just before the final vote, Reddick called out a police union official in the audience who Reddick said menacingly drew his finger across his own throat at the mention of Reddick's name. The official later said he may have been fixing his collar.
Reddick also pushed for pedestrian improvements on deadly Hillsborough Avenue. He explored controlling Ybor City's wild chicken population — and, at a recent meeting, groused that more people seemed to care about the chickens' fate than that of a group of low-income residents about to be kicked out of the Tampa Park Apartments. He's since worked with federal officials to get that deadline extended.
So surely he'll shake things up as mayor, right? Maybe fight to empower that police review board for starters?
He says no. He says he'd like to go low profile and just keep making the city great. "I would not commit to making any drastic changes at this time," he says. The mayor Tampa elects next year — not him, he says, because he's not planning to run — could just undo any changes he pushed through.
Well, there is one thing, he says, sounding more like the Reddick we know: He plans to take a lead role in that penny for transportation tax referendum on the November ballot. The black community has a history of voting for such initiatives and seeing little benefit in their own back yards, he says. "I will be strongly advocating … that we in the black community get our share," he says.
Speaking of the mayor's race, he's — surprisingly — supporting rich guy Tampa philanthropist David Straz, who's running against council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, former police chief Jane Castor, former county commissioner Ed Turanchik and small businessman Topher Morrison.
Would a Mayor Reddick in his corner help Straz?
"I don't know, it might," Reddick says, and laughs. "And it might hurt him."