Cross-bay bromance: Mayors tout regionalism, cooperation — yes, even on baseball
Two or three decades ago, the politics of the Tampa Bay area was parochial enough that the idea of bringing the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater together for a lunch would not have been quite so plausible, and the discussion might have been more strained than cordial.
But Clearwater’s George Cretekos, St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn have already met for working lunches of their own over the past couple of years, so it wasn’t out of their comfort zone Tuesday to open their latest to 175 members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.
“Some would say we have a bromance,” Kriseman said. They said officials and residents on both sides of the bay ought to celebrate the victories of their neighbor communities, and need to look for opportunities to team up.
“We have been friends for a lot of years,” Buckhorn said during the Tiger Bay lunch at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater on Roosevelt Boulevard. “What you are seeing in that friendship is the growth of this area as a region, not as separate entities. … Those bridges, for the three of us, will never be barriers. They will always be conduits to cooperation.”
Kriseman said Major League Baseball had a reason for putting the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg in the first place, and the city has only gotten bigger and better since then. He said the city has public land, has a new vision for that land and has funding sources it can tap “without raising taxes.”
“I remain confident that there’s no better place for the Rays than at the Trop site,” Kriseman said. “But, because they are a regional asset, I will do what I can to help them succeed no matter where they are as long as they’re in the Tampa Bay region.”
Buckhorn said he is glad Kriseman “was able to structure a deal, and I thank the council members for allowing that to occur, that allows the Rays to look at Hillsborough and Pinellas County to come to that decision, so they can’t say at the end of the day that they didn’t get a chance to explore their options.
“We will give it our best shot,” Buckhorn said. “If the decision by the Rays is that they prefer to remain in Pinellas County, then I’ll be the first one to stand up and say, ‘Thank you for the opportunity to compete. We will do whatever we can to help you be successful.’ ”
On President Donald Trump’s moves on immigration, all three were asked whether they would support the idea of being a “sanctuary city” — an unofficial term for communities that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities to identify and hold unlawful immigrants — especially since the economies of their cities rely on construction and tourism industries powered largely by immigrant labor.
In response, all three discussed the importance of recognizing the diversity within each of their communities.
“We need to remember that also in Clearwater, we have more Mexican-Americans than we have African-Americans,” Cretekos said. “But we’re not a sanctuary city, and I don’t have the authority to declare ourselves as one. We’re not going to build a wall or suggest that we build a wall, and we will welcome those who are legal in the United States. We will protect them. We will work with them.”
“What the president did was inherently wrong,” said Buckhorn, who noted that Tampa was settled largely by Spanish, Cuban and Italian immigrants who came to roll cigars. “I think it was a religious litmus test. I think it goes against the values of who we are as America and what we stand for as Americans. … We need a realistic immigrant policy. We need to screen those people who would do us harm and prevent them from coming, but you do not put a religious test on the ability to come to America.
“... For my community,” Buckhorn said, “sanctuary city is just a semantic term. It’s not a legal term. But I can tell you this: Our police department is not the immigration police. We are not going to pursue people for immigration (matters) unless they are involved in the commission of a crime, and then we will deal with it.”
“Our police officers are not screening to see if people have their papers,” Kriseman said. “Practically, it is the sheriff that actually makes decisions on who is jailed and who is turned over, not the St. Pete police. From a philosophical standpoint, we welcome everyone. It is what makes our city the special place that it is, and we will continue to do that.”
On transportation, all three said that building roads alone won’t solve the problem. They talked about the need for a lot of different options — ferries, trolleys, the expansion of ride-sharing, the addition of bike lanes and bike-sharing services, the use of tolled roads and lanes dedicated to high occupancy vehicles, and, yes, rail, which Buckhorn said has been demonized.
“Some people think rail is a UN plot,” he said.
Cretekos said “we lost” when the Greenlight Pinellas and the Go Hillsborough plans were rejected, and it's embarrassing that a region the size of the bay area doesn't have an alternative way to get from the airport to the beaches or the cities' downtowns.
Kriseman said it also would help if the Legislature would pass bills that have been proposed the last couple of years to allow cities to hold their own sales tax referendums to raise money for transportation. Current Florida law requires those referendums to be countywide.
“If we can pass it in our cities, then we can design plans that would benefit our cities and link all of our cities together,” he said. “So that’s one of the things that we’re hoping to see in this session.”