Greco: Some Things Never Change

Dick Greco has left the building. The one on East Jackson. Now he’s in an office complex up on North Florida. Closer to Avila than Harbour Island. Troubleshooting for Eddie DeBartolo.

The trappings are as different as City Hall and the Magdalene Center.

His office is smaller. Less memorabilia. There’s room for a couple of footballs. And the walls are bedecked with several recent awards.

And a few favorite photos. Dick and Linda Greco. Dick and Jeb Bush. Dick and George W. Bush. Dick and Bill Clinton. Dick and Tommy Franks. Dick and George Steinbrenner. Dick and Linda and Fidel Castro. Dick and the other two-thirds of “Los Tres Amigos”: Jim Palermo and Fernando Noriega. Reminders of long-term loyalty and the circles Greco travels in.

His effusive, tactile manner, of course, is the same. “You look great. Working out? How’s that pretty wife of yours?”

Something else hasn’t changed.

He still notices stuff. In fact, if you see a guy in a black Pontiac rubbernecking down Channelside Drive staring at the trolley, go easy and lay off the horn. It may be a curious tourist, but it’s probably Greco.

“I still look to see how many are riding the trolley,” he says.

Earlier this month he called TECO to report street lights out near the Davis Islands bridge and Bayshore Boulevard. And he doesn’t always exit I-275 at Bearss Avenue on the way to work. He likes to vary the route to see more. He notices details such as overgrown weeds. He’s having lunch with a DOT acquaintance this week and he plans to present a short list of landscaping eyesores.

“I can’t stop looking,” explains Greco. “I will always do that. Just because I’m not mayor doesn’t mean I’m no longer interested. This is my home.”

He says he’s happy with his post-mayoral life, even if his biweekly columns in the Tampa Tribune are proving more challenging and time-consuming than anticipated.

After all, Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. is a close friend; he has history with the company; and the DeBartolo Property Group is not exactly a cloister. And the erstwhile “developer-mayor” is there to help do deals. He can talk the talk of zoning and DRI’s or just go on schmooze control. He knows government and has friends in notably high places.

Greco reminisces briefly on a quintessential day at the City Hall office. He could get as many as 200 calls. He remembers as many as 17 appointments.

And he misses it. To call Greco a “people person” is like calling Sam Rashid a “political activist.” Greco doesn’t suffer strangers.

He doesn’t, however, miss the mayor’s role in the grave new world of terrorism and municipal security.

“September 11 changed everyone’s life,” notes Greco. “Especially anyone responsible for public safety. I’ve seen all sorts of awful things over the years from accidents to shootings. You get those calls — and they can come at any hour — and you’re almost relieved if it’s ‘only’ a shooting and not someone blowing up an ammonia tank.

“I’ve been to too many ‘what-if’ briefings,” adds Greco. “But that’s the way it is now. And it’ll never be the same.”

It doesn’t take much for the 69-year-old senior vice president to reflect further. The photos are an easy prompt.

President George W. Bush: “I like the guy; he’s genuine. Very relaxed. It’s uncanny how a president can still give a sense of ‘being one of the guys.’ You really do feel like you’re with a friend. The generals at MacDill love him.”

Former President Bill Clinton: “His way with people is as good as I’ve ever seen. He can capture a crowd, and he can put you personally at ease. He talked to me like he knew me for 50 years. We rode together from the airport to Hillsborough High School. He asked me about the CIT. I told him what it would pay for, including the stadium and schools. At the high school, he had the crowd in 10 seconds. It was dead quiet. Then it flowed. He quoted everything I told him about keeping the Bucs and keeping students off double sessions. Didn’t miss a detail.”

Gen. Tommy Franks: “Very humble, very gracious. Very good sense of humor. He sees something good in everybody. Has a profound affection for his troops. Personally feels any loss. Will admit to crying in private. A great general, but an even greater man. He doesn’t just delegate authority. He delegates credit. You go to his place for dinner, and he introduces the cook and credits him for a great meal.”

George Steinbrenner: “A good, loyal friend. He’s there when the chips are down. Does so many good things that people never hear about. And he does it all the time. Kind of man who doesn’t want to give the impression that he has a soft side. Fiercely proud and always plays to win. I even know that from tennis. He runs everything down and dives if he has to. I don’t.”

Fidel Castro: “I don’t admire him, but he has a presence. As smooth as you’ll find. He seemed humble and respectful. Said all the right things. No lectures. He’s 76 and didn’t appear to be slipping — and we met for nearly five hours. Even sounded like a man who might want to change. People say he’s a ‘master showman.’ If it was a show, he was certainly the star.”

Castro’s recent crackdown on dissidents, however, hasn’t dashed all hope for the habitually optimistic Greco.

“Yes, it’s disappointing and discouraging,” acknowledges Greco, “but I still believe in talking to anybody. If I thought I could make a difference, I’d do it again.”

One thing Greco won’t do — at least not yet — is criticize or “assess” how his successor, Pam Iorio, is doing. He leaves it at: “Pam is younger and vigorous and will make some changes. That’s good.”

But he does want to set the record straight on term limits. Had they been repealed, he insists, he would not have run for another term.

“Committing to another four years would have taken me well into my 70’s,” he points out. “That wasn’t fair to Linda or me.

“Frankly, 18 years is enough. I’m happy with what I’m doing now. In fact, there are some things the company can do for the city.”

And he didn’t mean lighting on Bayshore or landscaping along I-275.

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