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The 'family' is feuding; adding insult to inference

By DAVID KARP and BILL VARIAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda and Mayor Dick Greco, who have known each other for years, usually behave like brothers.

But Thursday, Miranda let Greco know that he's tired of getting taken for granted.

"I feel like a potted plant," Miranda said. "There's no reason to water it because it's (always) green."

Miranda was upset Greco's staff had not briefed him about a plan to lease the waterfront to the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel.

The hotel plans to build about 30 boat slips, then charge boaters to dock downtown. They hope the slips lure boaters for dinner or a night at the Ice Palace, creating a downtown nightlife the city also wants.

Miranda worried it would create another public giveaway. He was alarmed to hear the city might let the Marriott also manage more boat slips that taxpayers will build at the Tampa Convention Center.

The waterfront "belongs to the public," Miranda said. "It is the public's slips."

"The administration in this case has left us out of the loop," Miranda said. "Gather the horses because we are not going to let them run free."

But the council voted 5-2 against delaying approval of the deal. City Council member Shawn Harrison joined Miranda in dissent.

We don't know what has created friction in the City Hall family.

But we suspect it might have something to do with Greco's perceived role in the 2003 mayor's race. In an affront to Miranda, many believe Greco has quietly thrown his support to Miranda's opponent, business consultant Frank Sanchez.

HOW DARE YOU, SIR: In fact, it was quite a day at council.

Tampa City Council members were shocked -- shocked! -- when a lawyer suggested Thursday that council member Rose Ferlita should have bowed out of a vote because of a conflict of interest.

Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said he had never heard of anything so offensive in all his years on the board.

"I believe that is inappropriate, distasteful, and this council should not even consider that," Miranda said.

Attorney David L. Smith told the council that Ferlita should have announced a conflict of interest before moving recently to deny an attempt to change the development blueprint for part of Old Seminole Heights. Smith's client, the developer of a Walgreens, wanted to build in the area. Ferlita owns a pharmacy about 2 miles away from the proposed Walgreens.

Smith wasn't accusing Ferlita of wrongdoing, he said. But she still should have bowed out of the vote because of the perception of a conflict.

"I take very, very personal issue with what you said," Ferlita said, leaning forward.

Two other Walgreens are already closer to her drug store, she said. She voted recently for another Walgreens that is 1.4 miles from her store. The proposed Walgreens, about 1.9 miles away from her store, would not compete with it, she said.

After that, the lawyer's request for reconsideration died without a whisper of support.

"Appreciate your appearance this morning," Miranda said as the lawyer walked out.

Outside, Smith said he could probably never appear before council again.

"They hate me," he said.

PERSONAL, NOT POLITICAL: Attorney Michael Steinberg, one of two Democratic candidates in the state House District 47 race, has many friends within the Jewish community. At the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, some of those friends hosted a fundraiser for him, including controversial businessman David Bekhor.

Bekhor, you'll recall, was investigated several years ago for allegedly conspiring with Hillsborough County commissioners Jim Norman and Tom Scott to get a lucrative contract with Tampa General Hospital. He gave $15,000 to Scott's church around the time Scott was urging former hospital president Bruce Siegel to negotiate with Bekhor's imaging equipment company. A key fundraiser for Norman, he also allowed Norman to get a discounted rate at a fancy casino in Las Vegas.

Bekhor was apparently cleared of those allegations. He also survived an investigation that he illegally registered to vote, although he was not a U.S. citizen.

When asked about his participation in the fundraiser, Steinberg did not back away from Bekhor. He described Bekhor and his wife as close family friends. Their children know each other from school and, as native Israelis, Bekhor and Steinberg's wife have a lot in common, he said.

Bekhor was never found guilty of anything, he pointed out.

"It would be extremely unfair to connect David Bekhor, his business, with me," Steinberg said. "He's in the same synagogue and is a personal friend. It's got nothing to do with politics."

CALENDAR: Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who's running for mayor, will hold a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at La Teresita restaurant. Call 949-2522 to RSVP. ... Republican Gene Wells will kick off his campaign for County Commission at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Computer Parts of America, 601 W Hillsborough Ave. Wells is running for the District 1 seat, representing south Tampa. Call 367-9355 for more info.

-- Got a tip? Call David Karp at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com, or Bill Varian at 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com. Staff writer Josh Zimmer contributed to this report.

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