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Greco now and forever -- just not as mayor

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000


Memories have their uses. One of mine involves a mayor of my hometown of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo, who died in 1991. This was the guy who, as police chief, once vowed "to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot."

The phrase "law and order" was just taking its place in the political dictionary. It was code for cops all but breaking the heads of minorities, mainly blacks.

Nobody would talk like this now, no matter what he thought. Political correctness has defanged our public speech, which may be a good thing, but has also ruined its vividness, which is not.

Back then, though, Rizzo's language went over big with a lot of people.

Rizzo's career partly parallels that of Tampa's cop-crazy mayor, Dick Greco. This other Italo-American (as Rizzo liked to call himself) was police chief from 1967, the same year Greco was first elected mayor, to 1971. That's when Greco was re-elected.

Politics is as much Greco's lifeblood as it was Rizzo's, but unlike Greco, Rizzo hung in there. Greco didn't finish his second term but quit to go into business. Rizzo was Philadelphia's mayor for two terms, from 1972 to 1980.

Greco, who went back into the mayor's office in 1995 and automatically got a fourth term last year without a peep of opposition, may soon have another thing in common with Rizzo.

Rizzo tried to change the Philadelphia city charter so he could seek a third term. Greco may try.

Of course, Dick isn't saying so. He's as coy as a girl playing hard to get to go with you to the prom. His stand-in is real estate lawyer David Mechanik, one of Greco's people on the Tampa Sports Authority.

Last week, while I was back in Philadelphia, visiting relatives and enduring winter's wicked tail end, the normally nearly-mute-in-public Mechanik stepped forward to say he represented some businessmen who want the city charter changed so Greco can run again. And again. They have not said anything yet about the purple robes.

I thought Mechanik's announcement was a trial balloon that would never fill with air and instead sputter to the ground.

So far it has not On Tuesday, Mechanik was in the elections supervisor's office talking to Pam Iorio -- herself a possible challenger to Greco in 2003 -- asking about the details of a petition drive to change the charter.

Daunting doesn't adequately describe the task. More than 13,600 signatures would be required. That's equivalent to nearly half the number of votes Greco got in 1995 when he returned to politics. The signatures would have to be collected by mid-August, because the U.S. Justice Department has to approve the change. The feds could take two months to decide. A yes would be likely, Iorio says. But the verdict would come just before the November election, when the referendum would occur.

Those are odds even rich men would find hard to beat.

But forget daunting. This thing stinks.

Bad things tend to happen when people are in office too long, with almost unchecked power like that of the mayor of Tampa. Like poop, corruption happens.

It happens because the guy at the top gets too used to the nice view and the thin air, and because the rest of us are so used to his being around that we stop paying attention.

As for Frank Rizzo, he lost his try to change the Philadelphia charter and had to wait a decade before running again for mayor. He was 70, almost the age Greco will be when 2003 rolls around, when they found him face up on the floor of the bathroom of his campaign office, dead of a heart attack.

Let me be clear: May our own mayor, as the toast goes, live a hundred years.

But may he live them out in happy retirement. I'll even spring for the watch.

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