If you were looking for some small sign of sanity in the world, here's one courtesy of the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County.
This week, citizens stepped up in ways large and small — with a few bucks, with some seriously big money — to say that continuing to honor a monument to the Civil War at a public courthouse is not okay.
Move it, please, like you said you would....
Today the Hillsborough County Commission considers a small but symbolic action steeped in commission tradition. And not in such a good way.
As a national firestorm rages on the state of race and hate in America, commissioners take up the idea of a ban on moving any more war memorials in the county. Such memorials honor battles and troops from the Spanish-American War to Afghanistan in cemeteries, parks and public spaces across the county....
Allow me a comparison between two very different issues that have come before our elected officials.
Recently, certain Hillsborough County commissioners — faced with the decision to move a Confederate statue from a public courthouse to a more appropriate private family cemetery — actually brought up putting the question to voters in a referendum.
Instead of, you know, doing the job they were elected to do and dealing straightforwardly with the honest-it's-all-about-history-and-not-slavery faction....
The official bully of my elementary school was Curt. Curt's trademark torture was to grab another boy's forearm and twist it viciously until the skin burned red. He also enjoyed administering a swift smack to the back of an unsuspecting head.
But one day Curt hit a kid who hit him back, hard, in front of all of us. Curt immediately turned and punched another boy in the face. Why? At that moment I think Curt wanted us looking at anything but Curt....
"But the South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any manner, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race."
— the words used more than a century ago in Tampa to dedicate a Confederate monument.
Today, the Hillsborough County Commission gets a second chance to decide if this particularly ugly sentiment lingers on outside a bustling public building in downtown Tampa....
Yes, I know the race to replace Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a long 20 months away. In politics, practically forever.
But around here, it's never too early to speculate when a particularly juicy tidbit happens our way. So here goes.
Along with a former police chief, at least two City Council members, assorted former politicians, possibly an architect and at least one unnamed mystery member of the business community, how about a candidate named Dick Greco on the 2019 ballot?...
So, what was most embarrassing about the Hillsborough County Commission's 4-3 vote against moving a Confederate statue from outside the old county courthouse — a monument to a shameful time in history and the owning of human beings?
So many choices.
Maybe it was the citizens who showed up and spoke passionately about enslaved ancestors and about growing up in the battle for civil rights, words that did not appear to faze Commissioners Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White. All of them are up for election, by the way....
06/28/17 Economic Development
Tampa, a place busy reinventing itself, is not exactly known for its streets. At least not in a good way.
The road called Dale Mabry has long been multiple lanes of traffic hell stretching city to suburb. There's Horrible Hillsborough Avenue, the used car lots of Florida Avenue, the persistent prostitutes of Nebraska Avenue. Our streets are perpetually under construction, excuse me, "improvement." In short, except maybe beautiful Bayshore Boulevard curving along the water and old brick streets that have somehow survived "progress," pretty much no one thinks of Tampa and says: Great streets!...
When you're talking about Tampa's downtown, growth is good. Cranes bobbing, parks reborn, streets bustling, buildings rising, all good. Growth is great!
But a side effect of growth that threatens to mess with one of the city's best assets? Not good.
The problem is parking, or the lack thereof. City officials will tell you there are plenty of spaces — just not, you know, close to where you want to go....
06/09/17 Public Safety
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee sits across the table at La Tropicana, a coffee-and-Cuban toast spot in Ybor City favored by politicians and police. He's in crisp dress uniform, chest and arms covered with impressive stars and badges for a speech he will give later at MacDill Air Force Base. It will be one of his last as sheriff.
The waitress moves in, balancing steaming cafe con leche on a tray, stops, gives him the once-over. "You're even better looking in person," she says. And it is interesting to see a man who has run law enforcement in the county for the past 13 years — with a $405 million budget and more than 4,000 employees — blush....
06/05/17 Human Interest
TAMPA — It took heated discussions at two City Council meetings and the threat of losing contracts worth millions, but Monday morning, Mr. Al returned to his post at Old City Hall.
"I'm glad to be back," said Al-Hassan Mans-Kamara from behind the security desk between the elevators, where he has watched over the building for the last six years. "They're nice people, very nice people."...
06/01/17 Human Interest
If you work in an office, maybe you know someone like Mr. Al.
He's there when you come in, at a desk in the lobby, keeping a log, saying hello, remembering your name. And he's there when you're done for the day, telling you to have a nice evening.
For years at Tampa's historic Old City Hall — the quaint, Disneyish building where the City Council meets — that was Al-Hassan Mans-Kamara, Mr. Al or just Al, at his post in the lobby by the elevator. He gave directions and knew faces. He read agendas before meetings for potential crowds and controversy. He looked out for council members. And they knew he had their back....
In the dispute-gone-national over a bad joke uttered by Tampa's mayor, it is instructive to recall the nickname bestowed upon him by the local military.
"Swagger" was the fighter pilot call sign given Bob Buckhorn by folks at MacDill Air Force Base, on a patch for his flight suit, even — and yes, he had a flight suit. Clearly, it is a name he enjoys.
In fact, swagger has been front and center in his years as mayor. "Tampa's got its swagger back," Buckhorn declared early on, and swagger remains evident as he pushes his city forward in the final years of his second term....
Six months ago, Kyle Simon ditched his car and pretty much walked where he needed to go. And he did this here, in one of the most dangerous places in America to be a pedestrian.
Can you see where this story is going?
First, some background. Simon, 33, has lived in cities where you can get along fine without wheels, places with better public transportation and bike-friendly streets. But when he resettled in his native Tampa, he figured he'd need a vehicle....
We have an expression in the South to describe someone who can never quite pass muster with the powerful: It's like being the red-headed stepchild at the family reunion, elbowed from the table for having the impertinence to even try.
At the moment, in the legislative scheme of things, that would pretty much fit the University of South Florida.
USF — in the interest of full disclosure, my alma mater — just got the Tallahassee Treatment akin to a couple of rich-kid bullies administering a particularly humiliating wedgie. And the swift and sure arrogance with which this was executed was nothing short of breathtaking, even for that bunch up in Tallahassee....