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."