Nick Chillura Nuccio
was probably the most colorful and animated politician in the
history of Tampa and Hillsborough County. In the fifties and sixties,
almost every park bench in the area bore the words "Nick
C. Nuccio, County Commissioner." Those were the days when
you could get away with that.
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 Café in West Tampa. Then
he would shift to Ybor City, where he lived, to hold court at
the old Cuervo's Restaurant, which stood at the Northwest corner
Seventh Avenue and 18th St. If you wanted something from the mayor,
if you lived in Tampa at the time you knew those were good places
to be to get it.
Some lucky Tampans got to join him for lunch,
always at home, where his wife of 65 years, Concetta, cooked for
him and however many guests he brought along. This writer, Tony
Zappone, was invited on numerous occasions and the menu always
consisted of filet mignon, rice, exotically prepared vegetables,
and a fruit parfait for desert. No matter where he went, his omnipresent
cigar was in hand or mouth and his favorite hat was atop his head.
Nuccio built his share of civic monuments:
the old Curtis Hixon Convention Center, the old police headquarters
building on Tampa Street and the downtown library. Closest to
his heart were his creations at Lowry Park: Fantasyland, which
was torn down for construction of the zoo and Safety Village.
He gave out autographed photos of himself to
every child who came to see him, along with pen knives or rabbit's
feet for the boys and paper fans or maracas for the girls.
As mayor, he was in a constant battle with
The Tampa Tribune. The were against him purchasing the vast riverfront
property downtown owned by Atlantic Coastline Railroad, which
extended from the now Kennedy Bridge southward to Cass Street.
He even named the publisher of The Tribune, J. C. Council, to
a board advising on the purchase but the paper's managing editor,
Virgil M. Newton hammered him even harder. In retrospect, it was
the best purchase the city ever made.
He won a second term in 1963. In 1967, Dick
Greco's term on city council expired and he made his first run
for mayor, and beat Nuccio. He retired from politics and spent
his remaining years visiting friends and tending to his home gardening.
Over the years, a road, a park and a bridge have been named for
The legendary political figure died in 1989,
with almost a thousand people standing for blocks to attend his