As Greco rides into sunset, legacy remains

In 1967, Dick Greco became mayor of Tampa. He was 34 years old, the youngest mayor of an American city with a population of 250,000 or more.

Today, more than three decades later, the now-69-year-old Greco’s fourth and final term as the city’s mayor comes to an end when Pam Iorio takes the oath of office. With him goes a political career of substantial gains for the city and moments of serious controversy. But more than that, Greco’s departure marks the end of an era in Tampa city politics.

Greco’s first stint as mayor ended in 1973 when he left city hall to pursue a career as a vice president in the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. DeBartolo owned the San Francisco 49ers football team, but had to sell it after pleading guilty in 1998 to being involved with then Louisiana Governor Edwin “Fast Eddie” Edwards in a gambling and extortion scam.

It was with DeBartolo in the early 1980s that Greco had his own controversial business dealings. A company Greco part owned went under. The circumstances of the failure have raised questions for Greco, who said for years that he bought stock in the company at DeBartolo’s insistence.

Wednesday, when Greco wakes as a private citizen for the first time since 1995, he will again go to work for DeBartolo, this time with the DeBartolo Family Foundation.

Greco’s questionable dealings did not fade away when he entered City Hall. In fact, Greco has had both strong supporters and vocal detractors.

Those detractors gained ammunition from a reported Greco run-in with a parking attendant. Allegedly, Greco became irate when the parking attendant placed a boot on his car when the mayor failed to pay in a public lot. Greco, according to reports, used the police and his position to solve the situation.

Greco was again called into question during the 2000 election cycle. On the ballot that year was a measure involving term limits on Tampa mayors. Greco was accused of suggesting the use of public money for a political campaign to eliminate the threat of term limits, thus allowing him to continue as Tampa’s mayor as long as he could gain re-election.

As late as this past summer, Greco incited widespread debate and controversy within the city, one that affected the race for mayor. Greco traveled to Cuba and apparently met with Fidel Castro.

Local Cuban leaders responded with anger. They called for an investigation into whether Greco had broken any federal laws during the trip. Greco claimed he went to Cuba as a private citizen, and therefore his public office would not be affected.

Then mayoral candidates Frank Sanchez and Don Ardell also drew the ire of the Cuban community because they did not oppose the trip. Candidates Charlie Miranda and Bob Buckhorn, who has for years been known for disliking Greco, publicly disagreed with the trip.

While Greco has found himself at the center of these and other controversies, he has also been credited with several major gains for Tampa. The development of Ybor City, the Channelside district and the Tampa streetcar have been credited to his government.

But even more important than his accomplishments has been his ability as a politician. Greco’s controversies have rolled off him like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. With his heavily colored hair and laid-back charm, Greco has an uncanny ability to make voters fall in love with him. His popularity was so high in 1999 that he was unopposed in his run for re-election.

And his political career has survived despite a long-term dispute with the media. Greco has been accused of being downright rude and surly with media organizations, often saying they spin his controversies however they want. Greco did not return an interview request for this article.

But Greco’s political clout has been attributed by some an unseen aspect of Tampa’s government. Known as the “good ‘ole boy network,” it has been said that the same basic group of men have together ruled Tampa.

That network, if it exists to the extent some believe, dies with Greco. Iorio comes from county government, and, at least on the surface, it appears she will be a different sort of mayor. She has a reputation as a hardworking leader who concentrates solely on public service.

So, as Iorio takes the oath of office today, Greco rides into the sunset. With him goes an era of controversy and growth, and a dynamic time in the history of Tampa politics.