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Tampa honors Nuccio

Politicians and residents remember the accomplishments of the former mayor at the unveiling of a statue of him in Ybor City.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 1999


TAMPA -- Former Mayor Nick Nuccio, who died 10 years ago, can still attract a sizable crowd.

More than 200 people gathered Friday in the garden at the Ybor City State Museum for ceremonies preceding the unveiling of a 7-foot bronze statue of Nuccio in Centennial Park.

The most powerful people in Hillsborough County attended: current and former judges, county commissioners, city council members, mayors and state attorneys, as well as relatives and old friends.

All had a Nuccio story

Patrick Manteiga, who succeeded his late father, Roland, as publisher of La Gaceta, remembers sitting on Nuccio's lap.

Former Mayor Bill Poe, who regarded Nuccio as his mentor, remembered that no constituent's problem was too small for his attention. "If they had a pot hole, he tried to get it fixed," Poe said.

Fernando Noriega, Tampa's business and community services director, remembers Cuban and Italian immigrants turning to Nuccio for advice on anything from a dispute with their boss at the cigar factory to a form letter from Social Security. Nuccio spoke their language, whether Spanish or Italian, and like them was least comfortable when speaking English.

But the story that most typified Nuccio's appeal came from average resident Fran Constantino.

Now 56, she had severe asthma as a child. Traffic on the shell-paved street her family lived on stirred up enough dust to trigger countless attacks. Her father, desperate after calling everyone else and getting no response, called Nuccio.

"The next day at 7 a.m., trucks showed up," she recalls. "By 10 a.m., that street was paved."

Nick Nuccio was born in Ybor City in 1901. Starting in 1928, he served eight years on the City Council and then 20 as a county commissioner. In 1956, he became the first Latin to be elected mayor of Tampa.

He'd start his day about 5 a.m. over a cup of coffee at the Fourth of July Cafe. Lunch always was at home, where his wife of 65 years, Concetta, cooked for him and however many guests he brought along.

He was never without his homburg hat and a Bering cigar, both included on the statue.

Nuccio built his share of civic monuments: the old Curtis Hixon convention center, the old police headquarters building on Tampa Street, the downtown library and Safety Village at the Lowry Park Zoo.

He wasn't shy about getting his name out. Thousands of bus-stop benches, some still out there, bore the label, "Nick Nuccio, county commissioner."

He also gave out autographed photos of himself to every child who came to see him, along with penknives or rabbit's feet for the boys and paper fans or maracas for the girls.

He won a second term in 1963. In 1967, Dick Greco made his first run for mayor, and beat Nuccio. He retired from politics and died in 1989. Over the years, a road, a park and a bridge have been named for Nuccio.

On Friday, the crowd listened to speeches from Greco and others, then followed the King High School Marching Band across the street to the site of the statue. A good number were elderly men and women in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, leaning on each other's arms or stepping carefully behind walkers.

Theresa Greco, 83, and her sister Mary, 88, (no relation to Dick Greco) were there with Josephine Tornero, 79. The Nuccios, said Mary Greco, were "real fine people, a good family."

They watched as the canvas cover fell from the statue. There he was again, with his hat and his cigar, looking toward Seventh Avenue as if he was about to stroll on over.

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