Monday, March 7, 2011

Analyzing why Dick Greco came up 384 votes short

Posted By on Mon, Mar 7, 2011 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Greco1

As we mentioned in the MPR on Friday, several of Tampa's leading political reporters and columnists last week weighed in on Dick Greco's third place finish in Tampa mayoral election, narrowly coming up short to qualify for the runoff scheduled for March 22n, and what it all means for the city and body politic in Tampa.

Obviously, it's absurd to come up with too many grand elaborations on the end of the Greco dynasty; when you come up less than 400 votes of making in into the next round, it's hardly an overwhelming rejection by the voters.

But it did blow the minds of a lot of people that he didn't make the finals.  Be it the name, the reputation, the big fund-raising, the seemingly ubiquitous "Gimme five" orange and black signs of a hand that blanketed the city, as well as the weird Mao like posters of the former mayor that seemed sometimes to burst out of nowhere into the line of sight for city motorists, most people it seems, assumed Dick Greco would make it at least to the runoff, if not win the whole thing once again

Obviously, one of those people was Dick Greco.

I don't want to say he sort of phoned it in.  But he phoned it in.

The lifelong achievements are considerable and extensive.  So extensive that Greco only occasionally would tell audiences at campaign forums about what he had done in his 15 years in office. And when he talked about modernizing city government in the late 1960's, frankly it was so long ago that probably some people take some of those achievements for granted. Often he picked up a thick sheaf of papers that detailed his four terms in office, and said "This is who I am," take it or leave if. And he said because times were tough, he wasn't going to promise things he couldn't deliver.  So no, there would be no position papers offered in this campaign.

But the plans that Ed Turanchik and Bob Buckhorn (and to a lesser extent Rose Ferlita and Tom Scott)offered for the future didn't (and still don't) seem all that unrealistic. Can their proposals be achieved? With Turanchik and his "Places and Spaces" and "Houses to Homes," concepts, we'll never know, or at least not for a minimum of four years from now.  But what about Buckhorn's? Or Rose Ferlita's plans?  Obviously time will tell in the coming years if what they tell the voters they hope to achieve will come to fruition.  But voters are owed a plan, ideas, something to base choosing a candidate to lead this city over the next four years.  It's simply not going to be all cutting spending, and deciding what services need to be privatized or consolidated.

Also, Greco wasn't the smoothest of the bunch on the campaign stump. Linda Saul-Sena said she had never seen the former mayor as publicly angry as he was the night of a Seminole Heights candidates forum, when he instantly turned on a dime in the middle of his five minute presentation from making jokes at Buckhorn's expense to snarling about the criticism he had received in some quarters for his deal in building the Centro Ybor entertainment complex (which has left taxpayers paying millions in debt services over the years).  At the end of his five minutes he snapped, '”This is not an experiment!  If at this time we don’t hit the ground running we’ve got a problem, gang! It might be the most important vote you’ll ever make!”

And yes, there was the age factor, not that anybody ever brought it up publicly.  Greco, to his credit, did, after he lost last week, attributing the fact that he is 77 as being a factor.  Yes, it was.  Perhaps that's ageist, but it certainly was an issue when 72-year-old John McCain was campaigning for the country's highest office 2 1/2 years ago.  Greco is five years McCain's senior, and it's no crime that he isn't as robust as he once was.  He tried to address the age issue by saying that critics said the same thing about him when he ran as the country's then youngest mayor in 1967 when he was 34.

If you want to boil Bob Buckhorn's platform to a single sentence, is would be "We can go forward as a community, or we can go backwards," a clear reference to a return to Greco.  It wasn't a cheap shot, not anymore than were Greco's comments when he ran against Nick Nuccio in his first rodeo back in '67  ("You said the city had passed him by…if it was good back then..isn’t it time to turn a generational page right now?" Buckhorn asked Greco at the first St. Pete Times/Bay News 9 debate in early February).

That comment was made during the biggest campaign forum of the primary election - the live ninety minute debate at Blake High School that was televised across the Bay area by Bay News 9.  St. Pete Times Political Editor Adam Smith's question about race relations in Tampa was what led to another problem for Greco.

Ed Turanchik had to answer the question first, and he mentioned that the recent shooting of police officers in St. Pete had exposed the raw fissures that exist between some in the black community and law enforcement, particularly in St. Petersburg.  Somehow when the question got to Greco, he downplayed the racial strife of the late 1960's in Tampa by calling what was perceived to be a racial riot in 1967 as a "panty-raid' (No matter that the incident he was seemingly referring to happened before he was elected).  The comment stunned a lot of people in the black community in the city, who considered it offensive and dismissive of the realities on the ground by a lot of people who were there at the time and still live in this city.  That and a follow-up comment made in jest about Thomas Scott being his driver just drove home the fact that the front runner had lost of some his raw political instincts, which has always been a lot of what the Greco brand has been all about.

And was it supposed to reassure us that he had philanthropist and businessman David Straz and  John Sykes of Sykes Enterprises ready to guide him when he was elected and in office?  How much influence were they going to have?

But what about the impressive fund-raising effort, where Greco drew more money in than any other candidate? Well, as we wrote at the beginning of our piece in the current CL, Buckhorn speculated that there would be people who gave to Greco who wouldn't vote for him.

Janee Murphy, who worked with the Greco team, said Saturday morning on WTMP radio that was in fact a problem - that not all of the people who gave money to the campaign voted for Greco on Tuesday.  She speculated that some of those people assumed Greco was already in the runoff.  Now, if that's true, that's a serious problem in the whole GOTV efforts.

But what's also true is that Greco peaked early; He was not raising the same amount of money in the campaign's final weeks.  You could say that's because his donor base was tapped out. But what was really happening was that a lot of people were starting to pay serious attention to the campaign, and their attention began to wander away from the two hometown favorites, Greco and Rose Ferlita, towards the candidates who were presenting the best rhetoric about how to make Tampa more dynamic in the future - Buckhorn and Ed Turanchik.

Although I've been on record as saying I never understood what people meant by the Greco "charisma factor," (in comparison to pols like Obama, Rubio or even Charlie Crist), I can write that I got a sense of some of his appeal during this recent campaign.  Greco is a charmer.  He's naturally witty, and it is a pleasure to be around him.

But that never should have been enough by itself to get himself elected. Yet apparently he thought it was.

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