Interview with James Clendinnen, August 21, 1980

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Interview with James Clendinnen, August 21, 1980
Clendinnen, James ( Interviewee )
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Hillsborough County Oral History Collection ( local )
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Hillsborough County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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Interviewee: James Clendinnen
Interviewer: Gary Mormino
Place: Tampa, Florida
Date: August 21, 1980

M: Today is August 21, and I amiinterviewing Mr. James Clendinnen editor of the Tampa

Tribune in his office on Parker Street in Tampa. Mr. Clendinnen I recently was looking(

in an old Pioneer Florida editorial by D.B. McCay, he was quoting one of your prede-

crssors Edwin Lambrite. Lambrite had come to Tampa in 1899. He had said when I came

to Tampa from Georgia, Tampa was a city composed of derelict houses, sand, sand, sand.

When did you come to Tampa and could you paint a description of what Tampa was like

when you first discovered her?

C: I came to Tampa in February of 1935 to take a job as a courthouse reporter for the

TribuneqAWI think a description which one magazine article used at that time might
-r-S a Fr~U rr-- eI
describe Tampa in the 1935 V---Ia eSr-iF-t to it as the hell hole of the Gulf Coast.

Which was not.too far off the mark because we had open houses of prostitution, open

gambling houses, almost every election was stolen, by one side ofthe other. The

underworld, which centered on the gambling racquet, the numbers racquet; -a-rfm =hF-\t

large political influence to the extent that they controlled some elections and law

enforcement officers. So, it really was probably one of the rottenest cities in the

United States/for its size.

M: That year of 1935 ofcourse was the scene of a famous election right? Was this the

hurricane or was this when the National Guard was called?

C: Both. There had been an election to control/the city hall, the mayors election, which

the incumbent R.E.O. Chancy was opposed by the former Mayor D.B. McCay. The courthouse

crowd was with McCay and the city hall gang was backing Chancy ofcourse and it came

down to a contest which side could control the poles, policing the poles. Because

if they controlled policing the poles they could get away with almost anything. And

it went on to the point that each side began hiring and swearing in special police-

and special deputies Jhugs of all kinds from the whole area were recruited. So you

had several hundred of these people running around with shotguns and pistols and base-

ball bats and whatever. And the prospect of violence was so real that the sheriff

Ybor 36 A

C: asked the government to call out the National Guard to police the election.

M: Is this when Dave Schultz was governor?

C: Yes, Schultz was governor then. And the National Guard did police the polls and

contest, nevertheless about stolen ballot boxes, stuffed ballot boxes, and that was

the same day we had the hurricane.

M: Auguered ill will.

C: It was quite an eventful day.

M: Now was it 1936 or 1934 the Claude Pepper election? O
C: That was 1934. When he ran against -__U- mm r e said was decided by Peppe,

5,000 vote margin in the hot precints of Ybor City.

M: How do you explain how Tampa had come to such an infamous reputation nationally?

C: Well, a few families and a few established political organizations pretty much control

lied the city, there was some evidence bhaSas ties between the underworld and some

business I (A)F-FTS And it really sunk to the point where each special interest was

industry did not protect its own profits and investments and not taking any real in-

terest in the development of the community except in so far as it benefited that par-

ticular interest. The 1935 was really the turning point because a terrible accident

of publicity that Tampa received from this city election, coming after the 7w ele-

ction in which z-rps of the stolen votes that re-elected re And so some

civic spirited people in the communtiy were aroused and the newspapers hammered on the

need to clean up the city, clean up the government. And theVturning point in the clean

up really was when enough pressure was put on the county commission to buy voting mach-

ines which at least assured the honest voter that his vote would be counted, it would

not be thrown out. And that eliminated most of the fraud, there was still some re-

peaters, but the'" problem of the past was pretty much ended when the voting mach-

ines were.installed. And from then on _:" -f-f.-., made a electing P^N officials

and people with a civic view point. Gradually the old gang gave way toR Tlf

-) --E.---,-t -_______7 r public official.

Ybor 36 A

M: In a rather sensitive area, particularly since I am of Latin desent, would you say

that politics in Tampa became cleaner as Ybor City and West Tampa diminished in influ-

ence? This was the period when cigar industries were _, when more and more

native americans were rising in Tampa, no new immigrants were coming, is that a coin-

cidence? How would you answer that?

C: Well, the Latin vote is a factor in the whole political picture, ofcourse, diminished

as the number of Latin voters who were in porportion to the total population, tmo)JY
S-s P O )immigrants/ came in. The PA J imm rgranAsLL t t

increased in number 0 then there was AiR a dispersion of the Latin population

i7 r" f'Y 2 h '1 out of Ybor City and west Tampa and other parts of the city and it

was no longer the cohesionL there were the education and economic standing,

Many of them were less susceptible to control from some of the politicians who were

not L4F' i-T .Tc SEL k5- but in controlA, exerted a lot of influence on the Latin

vote to the business underworld C',' c-r .

M: This is a natural time to bring up some politicians, how would you characterize

Nick Nuccio?

C: Well, Nuccio was one of the old time politicians who's strength was based on personal

communication, personal favors for people. "SSSSOCi^-as a county commissioner before

he ran for mayor, he would use some of his county funds to put benches with his name

on them in various parts of the city, and to build side walks outside of his immediate

SHe was S_4_ 'as mayor, it was said that nobody was hired, even in the

lowest job in the city, that did not personally get his approval, so that they would

feel obligated initially for the job. It was the old SBI ltpolitics, passing out

little favors, here and there, and He was not knocvas a dishon-

est mayor. I do not think he made any money out of the office, and he had good inten-

sions for the city as a whole but as I said he followed the old-AaVS-politics.

M: Was Tampa a better city when Nuccio left office?

Ybot 36 A

A Was it because of Nick Nuccio or irspite of Nick Nuccio?

C: Well, I think partly both. He was interested in public projects which would have

high visibility and which he could point to and say that Nick Nuccio did this and

Nick Nuccio did that. So, he accomplished some good and fiscal improvement for the

city and then the natural growth also helped in the changes for the best.

M: Curtis Hixon?

C: Hixon, I believe his major accomplishment was that he was responsible for building th(

first master sevwr system in Tampa. At that time he had a conglomeration of small

sewers which were built by developers in the old subdivisions and septic tanks and

no unified sewer system, no master system and he accomplished that. That was one of

his main achievements. He also, I think, had the most business-like administration

and Nuccio/was a business man at a drug store for years and was pretty tight fisted

with his own money and also with the city's. On the whole he had a sound administrat-


M: Julian ?i

C: Julian L'4 was from a business standpoint he was not as politically knowledgeable

as either Hixon or Nuccio in how to deal with some of the problems that confronted

him. He had good intensions but not too effective in the political showdowns.

M: Dick Greco?

C: Greco is one of the best political personalities that I think we have had from the

standpoint of public contact and communicating with the people and employees. He was
c-r^t-t- 4 F
ivpml public relations, not so good in administration, but very good in public rel-

ations. iSr'he gave the mayors office a good image and the city a good image. With

outside business interests and people.

M: I have always thought, see if you agree or disagree with this, that the transition

from Nuccio to Greco was symbolic in a number of ways. One in the way you just ment-

ioned that Greco knew the media. Obviously Nuccio was never a friend, certainly of

"Times and never really understood I think t.v. and things like that. Also the fact

Ybor 36A

M: that both are Italian and yet Greco really did not play)on his kind of his people,

we looked at Greco more as a business man or something, certainly he did not play

upon his ethinicity as did the old-timers. Would you agree with that?

C: Yes, that is right. While he would joke about it sometimes when he was wearing a

flashy suit, somebody would comment, you know we Italians are supposed to dess like

that. But he could communicate with all people regardless 'i' particular ethnic


M: Bill Pole?

C: Pole was much less personalble than Greco, he did not have his public personality,

a rather poor political personality. He was very business oriented and I think in-

troduced some efficiency in the operations at city hall which were needed. He was

rather an aloof personr- I think he came to like the political life better than

he thought he would, and he was efficient and 4awwell regarded. But he could not

compare with Greco in his ouCreach for the people of all classes.

M: In 1935 or 1945 would you have characterized Tampa as a Southern city?

C: No, I would not. It was only partly Southern because you had some of the old-time

crackers here, some people had settled here early and still held all the land and

the influence r 1yhn you had the large Latin colonies with the cigar trade, and you

had the port which gave you a diversity that a typical Southern city would not have

I think. So, I would not classify it as a Southern City in the sense that usually yo

think of Southern cities at that time.

M: What about in terms of race relations?
C: Theereal problems in that period, of race relations,saf that was before the

Board of Education's decision which brought on many changes. If there were

any real problems, and I can not recall that we were conscience of them.

M: Would you say that the blacks in Tampa were kink of an invisible element before the

1960s, maybe?

C: Pretty much I think. Let me see, they were excluded from by the so called

Ybor 36 A

C: ',primary party, I forget what you call it. Anyway only whites could vote, if you did

not belong to the party, therefore only white's could vote, in the city election

which was called a primary for that purpose. So blacks were excluded almost all

together from political participation and they were not visible except at ordinary jobs

So/ou could say that they were almost an invisible element as far as the community

picture was concerned.

M: Did the 1960s race riots surprise you then? Or did it surpirs many in Tampa?

C: I think so. I think they were pretty much unexpected. Ofcourse we had the supreme

court decisions and when the that they started in the advance-

ment of blacks and the aspirations of the blacks. I guess we should have expected more

problems, but I think the riots caught most people by surprise.
M: Chronicle scientist sometimes talk about fA-power elite in a city, I think Robert De

or a p__ M popularly_ TT -rl- And in Tampa in 1945 or the 1950s

if someone were to talk about a-c si power elite /)here was the clout in

Tampa? ,Where was the real power? The movers and shakers? First I would like to ask

would the Tribune have been such a force?

C: The Tribune I think had considerable influence in the community._-AW in 195 Rexyl_ I'

was state attorney-and waser close to Governor Holland. He was one of the powers

I would say Cote at that time a little later in that period, became quite

an influence. He was responsible for establishing the crime commission which was dir-

ected toward eminating ard combating the organized crime, the underworld, the gambling

racquet created some of these problems in corruption and balance. oCCl' -- family

would always have to be considered one of the power factors for their holdings, bus-

iness interest and political connections. The Tampa L family was originally of

course was -__ Helguess the biggest single power in Tampa in the

early days. Those who succeeded him in the management ji the direction of the company

always LL considerable influence in the community. Carl was president of-t+he

initially the telephone company and acting in the community as also one of the movers.

Ybor 36 A

M: Did organized labor have any clout in 1945?

C: Not very muchdno .ou had one or two people who were active, the led the

union, but they really did not have much political clout.

M: University of Tampa have any clout?

C: No.

M: How about today if you were asked the same question. Where does power lie in Tampa?,

Has it really changed any except some of the people, \Peter O'Nite,AWD T J'r74.HJ

C: Yes, power is.much more divided now, much more difused than it was in those days when

few men could sit down and they would decide what was going to be done in the city or.

the county. You still have some influence _'_ ______ banks, the electric comp-

any, and the newspaper still certainly I_\_1 some influence. You have more independ-i

ant groups acting in politics more. People who are active in the political scene now

that do not have the kind of basis that you would have had to have in those years in

order to get elected. So, it is a much more open community aps-far as influence and

power are concerned.

M: This whole question of power elite, does Hillsborough County or Tampa have any more

clout today than it did, in terms of state politics? In 1945 you ofcourse coined the

famous term the pork chop days. Has the state's clout really changed much over the

years as you have observed at the Tallahasse scene.

C: Hillsborough and the other populous counties have acquired much more power in the leg-

islature as a result of reapportionment, and when-rr T:;' "':' '" i.i:

Ahne senator and three representatives, I mean I have three senators and nine represent-

atives from Hillsborough County and we have had speaker.of the house, which was very
"53-N-TI-1 &At Vt--A
rare4when the small counties dominated the legislature. And so *S2t influence

had increased in the legislature and in the state government- rj es. the in-

fluence is probably demonstrated more in the govenetorial elections and in the legisla-

ture itself because you have got personalities in the legislature such as Bill Savana,

who, although he comes from a small town in the northern part of the state,

he, because of years of service to legislature and hTs- rsonairye e is a very domi-

Ybor 36 A

C: nant influence in the state senate. But in the election of the governor, the voters

count and Hillsborough, particularly in the democratic primaries, t H I --

democratic registration 4-compared to Pinellas for instance which is much larger publ-

ican registration therefore it has less clout in the primaries. Hillsborough does

command more influence than it did in those days. 7fcourse it command more respect

too, because in those days the votes in Hillsborough were regarded with great skeptici-

sm. k I< -* ^

M: Do you remember any stories that are illustrative of the futility of Tampa legislatures

trying to battle the pork chopers in the old days?

C: I do not recall specifically any stories, I know there was a great feeling of futility

infact that we had the same representation in the senate that Jefferson County with

a population of 10,000 had. fi we could only hope to get favorable legislation for

our county through personal relationships with the ones who control the legislature.

"MaM'iB it was a frustrating time. Particularly when we were trying to get the legis-

latures t.-'Vto abide by the old constitution and reapportion the legislature and

what the constitution said where the districts were to be as equal in population as

practicable, without dividing a county. And ofcourse that did ot give you too much but

it would have given us a little more than we had, but they wou d not do that. So that

is when I coined the term I said this small county senators and representatives were

more interested in protecting their pork than they were in principal, so I started to

call them the pork chop gang.

M: How did WWI effect Tampa? L '

C: Oh, it had a great impact, particularly in the \/ was established just beforCWWII,

M: Had the city lobbied for that for a long time? Or was this unexpected?

C: No they lobbied for itb the people who had some influence liNft Washington and with

Congressman AWt .abO it exerted all the influence we could and we had a logical

site at the end JgX of the rrV >bo peninsula which is completely undeveloped.

So that brought to Tampa not only a military pay roll but a number of officersaI.

Ybor 36 A
9 (,,,, 'A .

C: men and o '1 `3-particulartook part in the community it0-then becauseBii

S5Z5BBBs'was here,--hern the airforce was later responsible for closing up the houses

of prostituttion, as a health preventive measure.)in act they said they would declare

the city off limits if the city did not close up these houses, which they did. And

it has had, of course a long term impact on Tampa because a large number of _-_-__

came to tfor >I wto ii which was also established during the war. And

then they would retire when they got out of their service and come back to Tampa and

settle because they lik;the community. So, it had a beneficial effect all the way.

M: How about in terms of economic generation, with ship building and things like that?

Did the war promote economic activity as well?

C: Yes, it was responsible for a large increase in the ship building activity. We haC(

L\tL a small ship yard, and then another ship yard was started,, Ma ty ship yard to build

concrete boats which never were much success7ut it did provide a-lot of industry at
"5 o kr Qvf I V i ru (-j- 'l 10
the time. And it accelerated-2 tWai ,,. the expansion of the ship repair facilit-

ies we had there. After the war of course one of the ship yards was closed and the

others wound down to a more normal level but the war demand generated

consumer economic activity.

M: What was your feeling on V.J. day? Were you in Tampa during V.J. day?

C: Yes, I was assigned to the third airforce headquarters in intelligence and public re-

lations section, feeling great relief. It had gone on for so long that, -1'' '''

iis it really over? And then a very pleasant consideration of a return to civilian life
and a somewhat high income, since I was an enlisted man.

M: What were your feelings regarding Tampa's future?

C: I thought Tampa had a very promising future because of the ports, the climate, the lo-

cation here, provided that we can make progress in cleaning up the government and get-

ting a more effective administration in our city and county affairs. But the whole

area here as I thought then, and convinced more than ever now is almost unlimited pot-

ential because of the attractions, the same climate, the water, the industry, Pinellas

Ybor 36 A

C: beaches, the regional airport, and the two interstate highways which of course Florida

developed since that time, but they came because the potential was here.

M: Was much being done in terms of planning gi iiffor this growth? It is one of the

great criticisms of Tampa now, the growth is frenzied.

C: That was the curse of the city that was never any early planning or zoningyou would

get a factory built in a residential section if somebody had the land and wanted to

put a factory there, and that is why you have such many parts of Tampa including some

of the better areas you will have a....... (tape ends) for a long term basis and the

consideration then, I guess partly because of the economic situation of the times.

Of course what can we do for today? To meet the problems today, as to accommodate
this particular-ai m- -wants to put up a business and there was no real vision of

a future. I guess partly because Tampa had been struggling along so long in the old

ways. It was some time before the concept of planning and zoning for the future dev-


M: Do you see Tampa today as less distinctive as the Tampa you discovered in 1935.' The

idea being that Tampa is becoming just like any post- WW city, that you have the

same hamburger stands, the sky scrapers look just like the sky scrapers in Atlanta or

Chicago. That we have torn down so many of the architectural artifacts such as the

old Tampa terrace hotel. Are we losing a distinctive rememberence of the past?

C: Well, the distinctions of Tampa in the period of the LA' ) 'in the early 1940s,M istinc-

tions that-I would not particularly want to keep. tUGEiS ME- there was a certain color

to the city then, but you had so many liabilities as xgMSMa;essvte assestof the color-

ful atmosphere that I think that they outweighted the advantages of keeping the old

ways. It is rather a shame I think that we have not been able to perserve more of

the Latin quarter in Ybor city, the old atmosphere, as it was when the cigar workers

lived there and we had the restaurants and the cafe's that had their individual charac-

teristics. That is a big regret I think of the progress that Tampa is made, that we

have lost that more than anything else.

Ybor 36 A

M: Well, what went wrong in Ybor City? Great society promises? Urban renewal? All these

great things are going to happen, it is a bomb site today really.

C: Yes, it is very discouraging to .... INTERRUPTED BY MORIMINO!!!

M: Who do you blame, do you blame federal beauracrats, or do you blame local people? Who

made the decisions? Was it a flaw in planning or in practice?
*-rMf'K 1S
C: I think the blame is distributed -Jone of the reasons of courses the decline of the

cigar industry and the workers moved out and the factories closed up and moved else-

where. So you did not have the population to sustain the old way of life there, but

then in the urban andlural programs, certainly I think some mistakes were made there.

The buildings were torn down before there was any plan as to what would be put in their

places, if anything. As a result you have large vacant areas and no plans for anyone

to utilize what should be valuable area, I think. So I think there has been a failure

in planning and I guess you would have to ascribe that to both local planners and the

federal beauracrats, _

M: How are things dawm at the Hillsborough Community College down there? Wh was Hillsbor-

ough Community College located in Ybor City? It seems in retrospect for 11 the wrong

reasons, Brandon or '-'in -w'. it would seem far betteICnow. Now was this a

case of old -__ reapearing again?

C: It was a political commitment to satisfy people who thought it would help the Ybor City

area economically. And~would raise the prestige of the area, and it was an appeasment

of certain politicians who felt that this money was going to spent,Vthey were going to

have a community college a-Ybor City-should have one of the campuses. And there was

not a logical place to put it. And perhaps if it had been so designed and planned as

to serve different needs and to blend into the air, by that it could have possibly been

justified, but the way it worked out, it seem to have been a bad decision.

M: In terms of another academic choice, why was U.S.F. located at what seems now to me an..

ill-advisa Be place, north eastern Tampa, very badly located for people to get to. Why

was it not located more sensibly?

Ybor 36 A

C: Well, for one thing the state required a very large land area and a large land area

of that size, I think they wound up with something like 1100 acres, of course you can

not find this in a central developed area. And they were offered a good deal on the

purchase of this track, and I think the feeling was that since it wouldscer this

whole area that it would be in a location that people from Pinellas can-pvass rough

and Polk County could come to it more easily perhaps they could if it were in a central

location in Tampa. Eventually they may need all that land.

SM: One of the great future problems I see in Tampa is in terms of transportation and in

energy. i system now, particularly downtown, Ashley Street exit, and in all

these things, how do you access the future of transportation direction of Tampa?

C: Well, the first thing we need of course is the 1-75 bypass which would take some of

the traffic of off the interstate coming into Tampa and with that a connection with

t.MM16iM. &- an eastern extension of crosstownn expressway, which would take traffic

off of road sixty. I think eventually we are certainly going to have to have more
-\T ,LYi1 "',
mass transit to theS- areas, such as the university area, and other developments

they are building north of town and the new areas in the east because it is

going to become an increasing problem.

M: The city seems very reluctant, I mean right now they are really cutting back -4'195;

C: The bus system? 'Well, that is because of money. The people voted down aRBS .-

"? |'J\ a special tax for the transit system and they will have that

proposal on the ballot again November 4. I do not know whether it will pass or not

but it is certainly needed, because no mass transit system eqtWi;or i the country .for-

i-r k yf( i--c-- can exist on the revenue from the ':'' alone. It has to receive subsidy from

some other sources. And this would seem to be, certainly a fair and minimal tax to

'^jixpt /decent transit system.

M: What would happen to Tampa if the Arabs cut us off? This has to be a very fragile

economic place here givenVwe need the tourists so bap a city without mass transit in

my own place, in educationksystem/where everyone drives to work, are we that vulner-

Ybor 36 A

M: able as it appears on paper?

C: We are very vulnerable since about forty percent of our oil is imported from those areas-

i'<' I saw today indicated that the consumption has been reduced about ten percent in July

SVS .C last year, over all. But Tampa I think is probably in no different of a situation

then any of the other Florida cities and cities elsewhere which do not havehmetro sys-

tem h We are so heavily dependant onVautomobile|, it would cause a mir crisis, no

question about i lw we would be back to rationing, and forced car pooling, re-

striction jTuse of automobiles in except necessities.

M: In conclusion, would you access what you have ,amliaS A the future of Tampa in terms of

potential and also future problem areas? If you would have twenty-five years,t1r

what do you think Tampa i going to be?

C: In twenty-five years\Vit is going to be a very much larger metropolitan area that might,.

some people say, become another Houston. I think potential is here for tremendous

growth,. people moving in here because of the rga a _______ and the climate

and all the recreational facilities. I think even more so because of industries and

corporations which are going to h moving in to this area, partly because of the grow-

ing market, and partly because of the transportation facil-Jties, the air service to

everywhere and the state t .-l-$ pT-c- L--\t' in this area, and of

the west coast of Florida is more attractive to people who run businesses and the ex-

ecutives who'working in so many parts of the county where they are located now. I do

not know how well we can plan for it because this great growth of course is going to

bring tremendous needs for roads and recreational facilities, services of all kinds.

But we certainly have o make every plan that we can to anticipate these problems before

they hit us in the face. There has been too much in the past. You

plan for dealing with a crisis when it arises. I think the University of South Florida

in the not too distant future, will probably be the largest university in the state,

unless it is forced to limit the seating. The unlimited factor that I think will

Ybor 36 A

C: affect the growth of Tampa is that Miami is currently becoming a real problem city with

the refugees and the narcotics...........INTERRUPTED

M: Great crime rate.

C: and all of -*t that some people are moving out of Miami because of the way the city

has changed and the circumstances in Tampa so far has not had problems of that kind.

And the general environment here 'ISBUESa appeals to many people more than Miami's

environment does. 5F=E it has many factors that are going to contribute to growth in

the future whether we think it is good or bad.

M: If you were to label period E-1945 i0n 1980 the age of blank, what would you label

C: I think I might label it the age of awarness. I think the community and the community

leaders are people who are ( '' leaders, and during that period became more aware

of Tampa's problems and the things that Tampa needed to do to improve itself. And they

were more aware I think of Tampa's potential as a city of the future. So I think aware-

ness might be a good term for that. There was not too much awareness in the 1930s.

M: Mr. Clendinnen, I would like to thank you very much.

C: Well, thank you. I do not that I recall a great many things that will be pertinent,

but in the course f-" forty-five years you forget a few things in e c L4 C' .

M: Thank you.