'Did she just say something?' Tampa City Council disrupted by a cough or something more?

Carrie Henriquez, the legislative aide for council member Guido Maniscalco, said she was sick last week during a council meeting.
Published May 29
Updated May 29

TAMPA — Was it a cough? Or a cough-curse?

Let's go to the videotape (helpfully attached above) of a Tampa City Council meeting last Thursday. Carrie Henriquez, a legislative aide to council member Guido Maniscalco, makes her way behind a row of council members, then coughs.

Here is where the mystery begins. At City Hall, where video of the meeting has been consumed like candy, many thought the cough ended with a vulgarity that begins with a synonym for donkey and ends in hole.

Henriquez said she was just sick and trying to hold it together on the city’s livestream of the meeting when a cough escaped. Nothing more.

"I said no words. I coughed. I sneezed. I coughed. I sneezed," she said. "I can be salty sometimes, but I would never do anything to jeopardize the council member's (Maniscalco’s) reputation or my husband's good name."

Why would Henriquez, the wife of Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, hurl an insult wrapped inside a cough? Her boss, Maniscalco, lost a chairmanship bid a month ago to Luis Viera, who was sitting directly in front of Henriquez when she forcibly exhaled.

A shocked-looking Viera can be heard to say, "Did she just say something?" to Maniscalco. Maniscalco said Tuesday that he initially thought he heard Henriquez say "the a-word." Later in his office he confronted her, but she denied it.

"She looked at me like I was crazy," he said.

Maniscalco wasn't immediately convinced. He said he tried to replicate the cough to see if it could just be a cough. Then he remembered Elton John. And Tiny Dancer, the 1971 hit by the British star. The song has had generations of tin-ears singing the wrong lyrics.

"I've heard that song hundreds of times and I still misunderstood it," Maniscalco said. "There's several Beatles songs like that, too. I believe her. Sometimes we hear a song and we think we know the lyrics."

Viera would only say: "As I believe the incident is under investigation, I feel it would be inappropriate to comment on it at this time."

But is it under investigation? Kimberly Crum, the city’s Human Resources director, would only answer in the conditional tense.

"If the City were investigating such a matter, we would not comment nor would there be any public records to release during an active investigation," Crum wrote in an email response to a public records request.

As rumors swirled last week, Henriquez called Human Resources to see how the matter might be handled and if she would have the chance to defend herself. She said late Tuesday that she hadn't been notified of an investigation.

The newly installed all-male council, with four new members, has been cordial with each other so far. Henriquez said she hopes that courtesy will be extended to her.

Since the vote for council chairman was held May 1, she has acknowledged being the subject of rumors about having a sour grapes attitude toward Viera for winning the chair (a chair’s legislative aide gets a small salary bump) and anger toward council member Joe Citro, one of four members who voted for Viera.

Citro denied any ill will between him and Henriquez earlier this month. On Tuesday, Henriquez said she's just trying to do her job — healthy or sick.

"I'm not a kingmaker nor do I plan to be one soon," she said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.