Curran, Foster spar over homeless issue
ST. PETERBURG -- Throw out any lingering doubts that last year’s bicycle accident mellowed City Council member Leslie Curran.
During a report Thursday from Police Chief Chuck Harmon about crime, council members brought up the persistence of homeless people in downtown, despite the opening of a new shelter. Curran, who spent much of her time on homeless issues before a bike accident in August sidelined her for four months, displayed a combative nature that she hasn’t exhibited much since her return in January.
As Mayor Bill Foster explained that he’d be willing to be more aggressive in removing the homeless from the streets if he had more shelter space, Curran said with, a bit of sarcasm, that his plan sounded fine and that the homeless should be taken to Snell Isle, near his neighborhood, in the meantime.
That’s an old line that Curran, who has criticized Foster for being too deliberate on certain issues, has used before -- including earlier in the meeting. Foster pounced.
“You’re speaking of homeless people as if they are cattle and we can take them anywhere. They have constitutional rights,” Foster said, glaring at Curran. “Your insulting demeanor isn’t helping the situation.”
True to old form, Curran didn’t back down.
“I don’t have an insulting demeanor,” Curran said. “I don’t appreciate it being said that I don’t understand the plight of the homeless or what constitutional rights are.”
“You watch the tape,” Foster said, referring to the video recording of the meeting in progress.
It was an eruption that stirred up the normally staid atmosphere at City Hall, where council members take pride in working collegially with Foster.
“That got ugly,” Karl Nurse said during a break in the meeting moments later.
But it was an indication that Curran, who, with the possible exception of Wengay Newton, has shown the most willingness on the council to openly confront Foster, is back.
“I told you she’s back,” said Council Member Bill Dudley. “That was good. It cleans the veins out.”
Afterward, Foster laughed about the exchange.
“She says that line when she gets off on a tirade of personal attacks,” Foster said.
Curran said she rightfully stood her ground on an issue, homelessness, she knows better than most anyone else at City Hall.
“He was completely condescending,” Curran said.