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City firefighters give the mayor a cold shoulder

By SUE CARLTON and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


Earlier this month, the Tampa firefighters' union threw an appreciation party for those who worked during the last election to overturn term limits for Tampa's mayor (a measure that was, however, overwhelmingly voted down).

Although Tampa Mayor Dick Greco showed, only about two dozen firefighters appeared at the Fireman's Benevolent Hall for free food and drink bought with leftover campaign funds, not the usual stampede of a couple of hundred.

Word buzzing through the ranks at Tampa Fire Rescue has it that the slight was related to Greco's non-appearance at the funeral of Jack Barker, a much loved 22-year veteran firefighter and paramedic who died from complications of hepatitis C in January.

Since the funeral, Greco has received letters from firefighters letting him know they were upset by his absence, which he attempted to smooth over with a visit to Barker's widow at home to pay condolences.

Al Suarez, head of the firefighters' union, says the poor attendance was more a logistics problem than anything -- invitations mailed late; no one posting news of a party at the firehouses.

Still, Suarez said, some may have stayed away for hurt feelings. "I'm sure there were a few people who were upset," he said.

For his part, Greco said he chalked up the lukewarm party to the fact there was "a jillion things to do that night."

As for not attending the funeral, he said he was never told of the day and time. And it was Super Bowl week, with events scheduled every 15 minutes.

A CASE WITH NO LOVE: Among the decisions simmering at the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office comes this: Did radio jock Bubba the Love Sponge or other station employees commit the crime of animal cruelty when a pig was castrated and slaughtered during his show last month?

Turns out State Attorney Mark Ober may be uniquely qualified to supply some information on the subject.

During college summers and holidays, Ober worked at a Lykes slaughterhouse in Plant City. While he was part of the processing and wasn't involved in the actual killing, "I saw it happen many, many times," he said.

Ober won't talk about the pending case -- one which, by the way, has generated hundreds of strongly worded phone calls, e-mails and letters to the State Attorney's Office. The messages, from as far away as South Africa, virtually all encourage criminal charges, some with unpleasant suggestions for punishment.

SPEAKING FOR THE AISENBERGS: Since the charges were dropped, the Aisenbergs have been all over the national media pleading for the return of their daughter. They showed up on Dateline NBC and Rivera Live on CNBC, took heat on Larry King Live, and were featured across several pages of People.

And in all those big-time venues, lead lawyer Barry Cohen was there, blasting detectives and encouraging Congress to take seriously his claim that investigators target innocent people at an alarmingly high rate. Barbara Walters and Ladies' Home Journal have also come calling for Cohen.

And for Cohen's partner Todd Foster, who secured the dismissal of the charges against the Aisenbergs during two weeks of hearings in December? Well, Cohen relinquished a tiny corner of the spotlight. Foster got to tape Montel Williams last week.

- Staff writers Graham Brink and Christopher Goffard contributed to this report. Sue Carlton can be reached at 226-3346 or carlton@sptimes. Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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