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10 to watch in 2007: Fred McClure

Chamber's chairman aims to bridge chasms

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
Published February 18, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
"I've got to balance my obligations to the 2,000 chamber members with the interests of society at large,: Fredrick McClure says.

In his student days at Indiana's Earlham College, Fredrick McClure was a politically isolated black Republican at a left-wing school that expected him to toe the ideological line.

The 44-year-old corporate litigator, recently appointed chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, admits he's feeling a tad conflicted once again.

"I've got to balance my obligation to 2,000 chamber members - that's my No. 1 obligation - with the interests of society at large," he says.

Chatting with McClure, you might be channeling Jack Kemp, the GOP stalwart who preached the virtues of private enterprise to the urban poor.

The historical beef against the chamber was that it was a preserve of South Tampa money. That's no longer true, but McClure said diversification has a way to go. The fact that the chamber's 14-person executive committee is half women and minorities is partly McClure's doing.

"If we can't bridge the chasm of three blocks, we're lost," he said of the distance between downtown Tampa and mostly poor neighborhoods to the north and east.

"If we can't bridge the bay, we're lost."

Ending parochialism isn't all about making nice and shaking hands. A businesses-without-borders outlook is vital to the region's economic vitality. Witness multinational drugmaker Merck's proposed partnership with Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.

True, Hillsborough County will capture most of the jobs from the Merck deal, but satellites spun off from the company will enrich the region, McClure said.

He noted with alarm the obstruction thrown up by state Sen. Rudy Garcia of Miami, who questions Tampa's plan to draw on $15-million in state incentives to hook Merck.

"This is a defining moment," McClure said of a need for a united front to counter Garcia.

"We need to squash this challenge quicker than you can say 'banana.' "

Colleagues say the "country lawyer" from Chattanooga - he came to Tampa in 1998 - knows how to shelve his ego.

McClure worries that the chamber will become a mutual adoration society if not braced by constructive criticism.

"He's not looking at this position as his claim to fame," chamber president Kim Scheeler said. "He's doesn't want to see his name in lights."

What he does want is the greater integration of the have-nots into the world of the haves.

When he got the chamber appointment before Christmas, McClure read a letter he said he suspects came from an older black woman. " 'Be strong, be proud.' That's all it said," McClure said, fighting back tears as he told the story.

Feeling charitable, McClure listed some priorities: Aid the homeless, help the poor with tax preparation and steer more into homeownership.

McClure is comfortable with criticism, so Scheeler gently delivered some after hearing the chairman's wish list.

"We don't need to duplicate the United Way. I've got limited resources," Scheeler said. "I always like to say one of the best social service programs is a job."

McClure, an attorney with DLA Piper, ducks his head into a senior partner's office on the 20th floor of Tampa's Bank of America Plaza. Might he cut back on legal duties during the chamber chairmanship?

He already knows the answer. Not a chance.

"It could be a full-time job if you let it be," McClure said of the chamber. "I refuse to let it be one."

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or 813 226-3313.

[Last modified February 16, 2007, 22:08:31]


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