Few doubt former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco has the charisma, popularity and name recognition to win a fifth term as the city’s mayor.
But at 77, some are wondering if he has the stamina to handle an always-taxing job that has become even more so thanks to the city’s sour economy.
To be sure, Greco still knows how to work a room. His announcement for mayor last months drew a gaggle of press and hundreds of supporters to a Tampa hotel, and most recently it was all hugs, handshakes and back slaps at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s 125th anniversary luncheon.
“He is definitely the 800-pound gorilla in the race,” says Tampa political analyst Chris Ingram. “He pulled in like 300 people to his announcement ceremony. That is pretty damn impressive. I doubt any of the other candidates could get 25 people”
Greco faces a crowded field for the office he held from 1967 to 1974 and again from 1995 to 2003, including former Hillsborough County commissioners Rose Ferlita, Ed Turanchik and Thomas Scott, who is now chair of the Tampa City Council.
Also running are former Tampa City Councilman Bob Buckhorn, former Tampa policeman Marion Lewis, and businessman Arthur Richardson. The election is March 1.
Even before Greco entered the race some polls had him leading, and Ingram, who is a supporter of Buckhorn, believes the former mayor will win.
“His name recognition is going to be hard to beat. He has magic in him,” Ingram says. “They used to say Bill Clinton made you feel like the only person in the room, well Dick Greco makes you feel like the only person in the world.”
Greco has already had a storied career as mayor, considered instrumental in securing public funding for Raymond James Stadium where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play, along with investing city dollars in real estate developments such as Centro Ybor. He was also a driving force for the creation of a trolley system in the city, a line which now bears his statue. Some view such things as successes, while some say Greco left city coffers bare.
His administration also suffered a high-profile scandal that ended with Greco’s housing director, Steve LaBrake, going to prison for bribery. While Greco had no involvement in the LeBrake case, he was criticized for a lack of oversight.
Greco is leaning heavily on his past and admits part of his reason for running again for mayor is his undying love of politics.
“He just likes being mayor,” Ingram says. “He likes when people walk up to him call him Mr. Mayor. I am just not sure if there is a real vision for the future there.”
Greco told The Florida Independent outside the chamber luncheon Thursday that he is also running because he is saddened the public has such a dim view of politics and politicians in an age of negative campaigning and difficult economic times.
“People just hate politics right now, and I want to change that, be positive,” he said.
But, according to Ingram, the main focus for the next mayor will be balancing a tight budget, spurring economic growth and creating jobs.
“Dick Greco is the nicest guy in the world, but right now I’m not sure that’s what is needed in a government official right now,” says Ingram.
Greco has the backing of some of the biggest names in business in Tampa, who he says he plans to turn to for advice on economic matters. Those would include John Sykes, founder of one of Tampa’s largest businesses, Sykes Enterprises Incorporated; and David Straz, Jr., a millionaire former banker whose donations put his name on Tampa’s performing arts center.
“I am going to have the best people around me in the area,” Greco said.
When asked if the final decisions will rest with him, he answered: “I’ll ask for their input and they will let me know what course to take.”
For now, Sykes says he is a finance director for Greco’s campaign, but declined to say how much money has been raised thus far by the campaign. The campaign’s first report is due Jan. 10.
As for Sykes being an economic advisor if Greco is elected, he says that has not been discussed with the former mayor.
“If that is what he is saying, he hasn’t asked me about it,” Sykes says.
While Greco has big business in his corner and continued popularity from past administrations, his age may become an issue.
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