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Term repeal bid hums quietly

The campaign's focus is keeping Mayor Dick Greco, but he's not focused on running again.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 16, 2000


TAMPA -- The people pushing to repeal city term limits have made no secret of their motives: They like Mayor Dick Greco a lot and want to keep him around.

Yet with three weeks left before voters decide whether to allow the ferociously popular mayor to run for a third consecutive four-year term, the campaign to make it happen is still lacking one crucial element: Greco.

The mayor, while philosophically opposed to term limits, says he isn't sure he would run again in 2003, even if given the chance.

"I think a lot of people wanted to hear me say, "I'll run,' and I'm not going to do that, because I'm not certain two and a half years from now what I'm going to do," said Greco, who will be 69 when his current term ends. "It would be wrong for me to say, "Vote for this for me,' unless I'm positive I'm going to be there."

With the electorate already on record in favor of term limits -- voters overwhelmingly approved them for Tampa officeholders in 1983, and imposed them on state and federal politicians in 1992 -- Greco's outsized personality might be the only force large enough to alter that sentiment.

And if he were to campaign and lose, he risks tainting his considerable legacy with what could be interpreted as a personal, late-hour power-grab.

Greco recently attended a meeting of repeal advocates, but his involvement in the campaign has been slight, and his tone decidedly detached: "Whatever way it comes out, I'm happy with," he said. "It shouldn't be judged because of me."

The man trying to organize the repeal effort, Joe Voskerchian, a retired bank executive and longtime friend of the mayor, said Greco attended only briefly and "was hardly there for any of the guts of the meeting."

Voters will decide separately in the Nov. 7 election whether to repeal term limits for City Council members, who also are limited to two consecutive four-year terms. But Voskerchian's efforts focus on extending the mayor's term. The group he is forming, called "Yes For Mayor Charter Amendment Number 1 Committee," or MCAC, will mobilize people to speak on behalf of the repeal measure.

Voskerchian acknowledges the group is getting a late start but thinks Greco ought to have more time to shepherd development projects under way in areas such as Ybor City and the Channelside district.

"Why stagnate, if he's got a successful record going?" Voskerchian said. "I think it goes without saying that he's been good for the community."

David Mechanik, who spearheaded the campaign that persuaded the City Council to put the measure on the ballot, referred questions about the repeal effort to Voskerchian.

Asked if he was disappointed that Greco had not supported the measure more vocally, Voskerchian said, "It would be such a positive note if he came out and said that he definitely was going to run for mayor, providing his health was good. That would be good for us, but it's strictly his call. He's got his reasons. I'm not going to question them."

Meanwhile, Voskerchian said, "We are going forward with what we want to do." He said he planned to file papers registering MCAC as a political action committee, but when he called the Supervisor of Elections office to find out how, he learned he didn't have to. That's because of a federal judge's ruling in December declaring Florida's campaign disclosure law, which required political committees to register with the state and report money raised and spent, a violation of the First Amendment.

That ruling disturbs Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio, who calls it "a terrible loophole in campaign finance laws."

"Our campaign finance laws are predicated on who's giving and who's getting, and this really blows a whole in all that," Iorio said.

Still, Voskerchian said he plans to file a record of contributions his group receives, though there have been none so far. "We're not trying to hide a thing," Voskerchian said.

Council member Bob Buckhorn, a mayoral aspirant who supports term limits, predicts the measure will fail overwhelmingly. "There is no grass-roots movement for this. There's no groundswell," he said. "In the last five months I have not run into one person (who thinks) that creating a monarchy is a good thing." He added: "The problem is not Mayor Greco. The problem is when you get a bad one."

Council member Shawn Harrison, a term limits supporter, also expressed doubt the measure would pass. "I think if there was a great public outcry to repeal this, we would have heard that outcry by now," he said, noting the campaign itself has seemed surprisingly quiet. "I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more movement."

Mike Scionti, chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, also doubts it will pass. He thinks term limits serve a valuable function in encouraging more people to run for office.

"The mayor has not given them the kind of commitment that I think they were looking for," Scionti said. "He's not out there willing to campaign for it, and that's going to be very important for it to have any chance of success."

Greco, who ran unopposed last year, says he loves being mayor, and can't conceive of a better job. But he doesn't know whether he'll feel that way in 2003. After his term expires, he said, "How many years do I have left to do whatever else I want to do on my own?"

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com.

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