It’s so far in the rearview mirror already, but think back to February 2011, a month before the City of Tampa would vote for its new Mayor. A wide, capable field of candidates was running, including Bob Buckhorn, Rose Ferlita,Tom Scott, Ed Turanchik and Tom Scott. Leading this field, presumably, was the First Man of Tampa, former Mayor Dick Greco.
At the beginning of February 2011, it was just assumed Greco would be one of the two candidates coming out of the run-off. From there, it was widely expected that Mayor Dick would be well on his way to a fifth term.
“You could have asked practically anyone: Dick Greco was about to be Tampa’s next mayor,” wrote columnist Sue Carlton of the Tampa Bay Times.
That was before Greco made the now infamous panty-raid comment.
During a televised debate, Greco compared the city’s 1960s race riots to the lingerie-stealing pranks once popular on college campuses.
“It was more like a panty raid-type thing,” Greco said during the live broadcast.
Although Greco would later apologize for the comment, the damage was done. As one observer noted, “(t)he sands of time had shifted under him.”
Presently, I wonder if the proverbial sands of time are shifting under the feet of Everett Rice, the former Sheriff running for his old job. Rice is challenging current Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was appointed to complete the term of Jim Coats.
At one point, I would have penciled Rice in as a sure-thing. In fact, Rice’s own internal polling had him with a 43-point lead over Gualtieri. And that was before the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was hammered by the local media for the actions of a handful of off-the-reservation deputies.
Rice was well on his way to returning to office. He still might be.
But, like Greco, Rice may have had a moment when the sands of time shifted right beneath his feet.
Last week, screaming from atop of the Tampa Bay Times, was the headline: “Once considered a moderate, Pinellas Sheriff candidate Everett Rice accepts support of far-right groups.”
Quite honestly, the story should be downright frightening to anyone who does not aspire to be on National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers.”
Rice is flirting with ideas well outside mainstream political discourse. He says he doesn’t know whether President Barack Obama is really a U.S. citizen, and he is open to discussing far-right fears that a United Nations environmental compact known as Agenda 21 is a secret plot to establish “one-world government.”
“I don’t know if he is or not,” Rice said when asked if the president is a citizen of this country.
Does he think Obama’s birth certificate is real?
“I don’t know,” Rice said. “I mean, I suppose it is. He’s the president. It’s a non-issue now.”
Say what, Everett? I would have rather you compare a race-riot to a panty-raid than see you caught up in the ‘birther’ moment. I’m sure a lot of those who respect your past service to Pinellas County feel the same way.
I was personally so alarmed by this article that I texted late at night one of Rice’s political consultants to make sure they read the article so they could begin walking-back some of the more provocative statements.
Not worried, was basically the reply.
Remember, Rice and Gualtieri are running in a Republican primary in a political environment that holds in contempt the very thought of moderation. Tacking to the far right might not be such a bad political move for Everett Rice.
Then again, the recent polling shows Gualtieri within a touchdown of Rice, while Rice faces increased scrutiny about controversial issues in his record, such as his double-dipping.
Once inevitable, Everett Rice’s return may withstand this ‘Dick Greco moment’, but I think the sands of time are shifting.