Before an adoring crowd of hundreds, 77-year-old Dick Greco says he's the best man to become Tampa's next mayor — again

A quick survey of some of those in attendance found a lot of love in the room, although for some it seems Greco may be the human equivalent of comfort food, a warm and familiar presence in challenging times.

Marilyn Baker, a Tampa resident for 25 years, said,  "I think Dick has foresight. I think he's all for Tampa and everything he's done has been for the betterment of Tampa. I love his not going to say negative things in his campaign and that we are all friends and family."

Nancy Afield said Greco was at her wedding some 37 years ago.  She said she liked the field of candidates, but said she would probably vote for the Ybor City native, and said that Greco's mother lived to be nearly 100, information that she wanted to convey to convince those worried about his age.

Phyllis Fleming wore a t-shirt supporting Greco that she said was from 1995. "I've always liked his honesty and his passion for this city, " she said, saying she liked the economic development projects he supported during his last 8-year tenure in office.[image-1]

Her friend Robert Maloney said that he was not a Greco supporter — until he heard the man of the hour speak.  "After hearing his speech, particularly about his legacy, I was really impressed...I'm really sold, " adding that Monsignor Higgins' appearance also enhanced his ardor for the former mayor.

In fact, Maloney said he was considering volunteering to help Greco.

In comments made to reporters as he shook hands and reached out to his supporters (literally), Greco continued voicing his amazement about how "everybody detests politicians. What's wrong with that word, if you're a good one?" he asked.

He didn't pretend to be modest. "I've done it four times, no one else has been mayor.  This is not a time for on-the-job training. It's gotta be someone to jump in there on the first day, there's going to be a lot of tremendous help that's going to be available to me in this town...tough budget to come up with, no's a little frightening, but it is what it is."

He proudly defended his advocacy for the Community Investment Tax, approved by Hillsborough voters in 1996, that has helped fund education, the arts, and a host of other projects in the city and county — and oh yes, also helped pay for a stadium for the very wealthy Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

"If it weren't for the CIT where would be today? Nothing that you see would be built, nothing. We had to sell that, to keep the Bucs here, every school would have been on double session, you wouldn't have moved anybody, all of these things that I've done, over the years, we'll do again if we can. What we can't have are people promising things that can't happen, and then they're disappointed in politics and politicians...I wouldn't dare tell you I'm going to do this or do that, if I'm not going to be positive I can do that...I always did my best, and it was pretty good."

Will it be good enough in 2011?  In this room, for this one night, it certainly would be.  But there's three full months of a campaign to determine who the best man — or woman — will be for this city moving forward.

There are several talented candidates running for mayor of Tampa next March, but it's unlikely that any of them could pull off the grand entrance to the race that Dick Greco did on Monday night.

That there were hundreds of people in attendance was obvious soon after entering the lobby of the InterContinental hotel at the corner of Kennedy and Westshore.  But that crowd grew even thicker in the hotel's Bayshore room, where hundreds more stood, many with glasses of Chardonnay or other adult beverages in hand, as they awaited to hear from the once and possibly future king, er, mayor, of Tampa.

After introductions by Monsignor Laurence Higgins, a poem read aloud by Tampa's Poet Laureate James Tokley, and the introduction of Greco by one of his daughters (who joked that she and her dad were both AARP members), the former mayor took the stage, where about half of his 15-minute speech was devoted to recounting some of his experiences during the 15 years in four different terms he served in the top office, going back to 1967.

"I'm going to reminisce for a little bit," Greco said softly into the microphone, as those standing in the overflow room could still  be heard speaking loudly. He talked about how people said he was too young when he first ran for mayor in 1967 (he was 34).  "Now some people are saying 'Maybe he's too old,'" he said, pausing. "I think I'm just right," eliciting a large ovation from the partisan crowd.

Halfway into his address he pivoted into the present, but not without boasting, "I could go on forever and ever about jobs we have brought." After praising Mayor Iorio for her tenure, he sounded like all of the other candidates who have already weighed in on the rough economic times that her successor will face.

"This is probably not going to get better, friends," he said, momentarily injecting some realism into the celebration. "I'd like to be more optimistic and so forth, but that's not the way I am."

He then showed off his Reagan-like sense of optimism, undoubtedly one of the highlights of  his personality. When he introduced Charlie Crist in St. Petersburg when the governor went independent in the U.S. Senate race this spring, Greco spoke about transcending partisan lines, and he continued that theme on Monday, mocking those on the campaign trail over the past year who boasted about not being a career politician.

"People are asking me all the time are you liberal or conservative?  I'm reasonable," he deadpanned, eliciting another hearty round of cheers. But he sounded like every other man and woman running for mayor when he insisted that the celebration taking place in front of him wasn't really about him. No, it was about the city. "Whoever takes over this next time is going to have a hard job." He spoke in favor of regionalism, and insisted there would be no negative campaigning.

But that doesn't mean his opponents are prepared to lay down their arms. Over the weekend former City Councilman Bob Buckhorn told CL that"the next mayor has to have the stamina, the endurance, to stay on task,  to not just recant stories of past glory but to really have a plan to get us to the next level."

"Everybody's going to say something, " Greco responded, when CL asked him about Buckhorn's comments Monday night. "I can run on a record and I know what I'm going to do in the future, I know immediately, and it's that simple. They can say anything they want."

The former mayor is not unaware of the jokes that may flow his way related to his age.  Introducing his wife Linda, Greco cracked about her "changing his diaper."

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