'The black box' that helped topple a Tampa mayor's '63 re-election

Some people say 2020 is the most contentious election season they’ve ever seen but anyone who lived in Tampa several decades ago may remember this one.

It was the election with “the black box” and it made a splash on the air at WTVT Tampa in 1963.

The country was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, President Kennedy was campaigning for a second term, and in Tampa the mayor’s election was fixated on a mysterious box.

“The campaign came up with the idea of the black box, which was a box filled with, well, they didn’t know what,” says Rodney Kite-Powell, a historian at the Tampa Bay History Center. “They said it was filled with the information you needed to vote against Julian Lane.”

The rivalry between Julian Lane, the progressive, and Nick Nuccio, the conservative, was contentious by 1963 standards.

“Even this campaign wasn’t that vicious,” says Kite-Powell. “But the idea that there was this salacious information in this box was a bit unusual.”

And this box was destined for television, the new political battlefield.

“To tease a television program that was actually on channel 13 for people to tune in and see the contents and the damning information that would bring down Mayor Lane,” says Kite-Powell.

The stakes were high in a city on the edge of its potential and Tampa viewers were on the edge of their seats when the black box was finally opened on live TV.

It wasn’t as exciting as some expected.

“Basically, it was newspaper clippings and what we consider photocopies of documents that weren’t really scandalous,” says Kite-Powell.

Among other things, the documents eluded to improper zoning on one of Lane’s properties.

“It was a bit of a let-down,” says Kite-Powell. “It wasn’t like Geraldo and Al Capone’s vault, but it was almost that.”

However, Nuccio, the candidate with the box, won the election. While most said his policies carried the day, some still wonder about the power of the box.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean the black box is what pushed the voters over, but it could have been that last little bit that they need,” Kite-Powell says.

In a contentious political season, a campaign with its own strange turn happened in Tampa nearly 60 years ago.

Both Julian Lane and Nick Nuccio served as Tampa Mayor. Both have streets and parks named for them.