Make us your home page

Al Pina gives his all to better minorities' economic standing

Al Pina, chairman of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition, is preparing for a showdown with mighty Bank of America. In his crusade to get B of A to open up more banking opportunities for low- and moderate-income minorities, Pina is going on a hunger strike June 15.

Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack

Al Pina, chairman of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition, is preparing for a showdown with mighty Bank of America. In his crusade to get B of A to open up more banking opportunities for low- and moderate-income minorities, Pina is going on a hunger strike June 15.

Al Pina is on steroids. Not that stuff baseball guys lap up, but the figurative steroids that re-energize and empower a rare Florida activist — one who was just about to call it quits last year and leave the state.

"I was going to take that midnight train out of Florida," admits Pina, 47, who as head of Tampa's Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition learned his in-your-face activism from California's Cesar Chavez school of civil rights movements. "There was so much fear and loss of hope in Florida's poor communities. Why fight a battle when you can't make a difference?"

But things changed, "almost overnight," says Pina, when the Obama administration took office in January. It's not that the feds suddenly kowtow to Pina. But the new administration — especially federal bank regulators — actually listens to Pina now. The feds, he says, seem genuinely engaged.

Forget retirement. "I decided there was a fighting chance we can make a difference and shift socioeconomic policy," he says.

Albert Robert Pina III is back.

A refreshed Pina spells trouble for those businesses — especially Bank of America — that, to Pina, disrespect his coalition.

Pina turns up the heat this coming week. His FMCRC holds its annual summit on Clearwater Beach (well attended by federal regulators and bankers, he points out), and it unveils its boycott against B of A. Then, on June 15, Pina starts a hunger strike (he will take water only) against the Charlotte, N.C., banking giant, one of the biggest banking players in the state of Florida.

This is no idle threat. In 2005, Pina targeted SunTrust as insensitive to Florida's poor communities. And while SunTrust said at the time it was as engaged as any other bank in the state, it chose to avoid a public relations flap and publicly committed more funds to low- and moderate-income borrowers. That ended Pina's strike of '05.

The new hunger strike will start with a publicity tour that may include a visit to St. Petersburg's Midtown, a minority neighborhood. Pina wants to honor redevelopment efforts like the shopping center anchored by a Sweetbay supermarket.

The Pina vs. B of A clash may be more ornery. SunTrust's culture is Southern politeness. Bank of America is brash. And it does not like being pushed around — though it got its share when the Treasury Department strong-armed it to buy Merrill Lynch.

Still, Pina has leverage. Bank of America agreed long ago to be more accountable to activist groups in California. If B of A is willing to do so there, Pina asks, why not here?

Pina also successfully wooed most other major banks operating in Florida. That includes new arrival Wells Fargo, which bought Wachovia. At first, Pina criticized Wells, but then met with its top officials based in California. This week at FMCRC's summit, Wells Fargo Foundation president Tim Hanlon will be honored as "banker of the year."

It seems odd for Pina to credit California's history of activism as a role model for Florida when the West Coast state is effectively bankrupt. Pina acknowledges Florida lacks activist roots and blames elected officials for an ongoing lack of leadership.

Pina's message to business? We are not your enemy. His statewide group and others want to show how Florida's ignored minority neighborhoods can rebound and deserve attention.

Jobs, says Pina, are key. Not subsidized housing, which has been the conventional focus.

"We are trying to build new consumers and new banking customers," Pina argues. How, he asks, can business disagree with a goal like that?

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.

Al Pina gives his all to better minorities' economic standing 05/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 22, 2009 9:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board mismanaged its finances, lacked accountability and violated its own rules, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the county's inspector general.

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, resigned in January.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    Luis Flores, executive chef at Ciccio Restaurant Group, prepares an Impossible Burger at Epicurean Hotel's Food Theatre. Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger that will launch on Sept. 27, 2017 in all the Ciccio Restaurant Group locations, except for Fresh Kitchen. "This burger caters to the carnivorous, not just the vegetarians" said Jeff Gigante, co-founder at Ciccio Restaurant Group. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  3. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project


    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    Construction is underway for the new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa. This view is from atop Amalie Arena, where local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the first piece of what will be the new Water Street District. The USF building is expected to open in late 2019. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  4. Tampa Bay among top 25 metro areas with fastest growing economies

    Economic Development

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay's gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy in the country for 2016. Rentals were one of the areas that contributed to Tampa Bay's GDP growth. Pictured is attorney David Eaton in front of his rental home. 
  5. Tampa Bay cools down to more moderate home price increases

    Real Estate

    The increase in home prices throughout much of the Tampa Bay area is definitely slowing from the torrid rate a year ago.

    This home close to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa sold for $3.055 million in August, making it Hillsborough County's top sale of the month. [Courtesy of Bredt Cobitz]