Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Crist shift on Tampa's Confederate statue may signal momentum for removal

TAMPA — Once in favor of keeping Tampa's Confederate monument where it is, Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist now believes it will likely be moved.

Where the monument ends up remains in the air. But during an appearance Thursday on WMNF-FM 88.5, Crist said he expects the commission will soon find it a new home.

"It's realistic to say we're going to move this," Crist told WMNF show host Mitch Perry. "There are too many people out there that see pain and suffering when they look at this, and the board is receptive and sensitive to that."

Crist was one of four commissioners who voted June 21 not to remove the statue from outside the old county courthouse in downtown Tampa. The latest remarks from Crist, who has pushed for compromise, are another indication that momentum is building on the commission to reverse course from last month.

Still, the issue is far from settled.

For one, Crist said he can't make Wednesday's meeting and has asked to postpone debate on the monument until August. He will be in California. He said it also may be a month or two until a suitable site is decided.

"We're going to find a site to relocate it, one that is off the beaten trail and is in a location where if you don't want to see it, you don't have to," Crist said. "But if you do want to see it, you can certainly find it."

But Commissioner Les Miller wants a vote Wednesday. He has proposed donating the statue back to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who paid to erect it in 1911.

As of Thursday, the board's draft agenda for next week's meeting included a discussion on the monument's future.

"House it and store it until they find a proper place to move it," Miller said.

If Crist can't attend Wednesday's meeting, one of the other three commissioners who voted against removal — Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman or Stacy White — will have to join Miller, Al Higginbotham and Pat Kemp to change the board's position.

Miller said Thursday that he believes support for removal is growing in the community.

For example, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said the organization supported removal of the statue.

"We do not believe it is a true and accurate depiction of the values that make Tampa such a great, progressive city," the statement said.

The Buccaneers are now aligned on the issue with the Tampa Bay Rays, which last week also said the organization was "supportive of its removal from the courthouse."

The Tampa Bay Lightning declined to weigh in on the controversy, saying the decision "should rest with the county commissioners that have been elected to represent us and our county."

(The Times asked the region's three professional sports teams about the monument last week; however, the Buccaneers' offices were closed for the holiday. The team responded to the inquiry Wednesday night.)

The Confederate monument features two soldiers — one heading north to battle, and another, facing south, uniform tattered. Between them is a marble obelisk that bears the rebel flag. The monument was moved to its current location in 1932, outside what is now the old county courthouse, an office building that also holds traffic court and weddings.

It is the oldest statue in Tampa, and its unveiling drew 5,000 when the city was still a small port town.

At the monument's dedication, 50 years after the start of the Civil War, the keynote speaker called African-Americans an "ignorant and inferior race."

Crist said he was always open to relocating the monument but there was no plan for where it to put it. He didn't want to see it destroyed or stored, claiming that was the alternative.

Two options floated by Crist, city-owned Oaklawn and Woodlawn cemeteries, were rejected by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Crist has reached out to about two dozen other potential locations, he said, but would prefer a "cemetery where there are existing Civil War graves."

Miller's preferred destination, the Tampa Bay History Center, said it could not accommodate the statue. He said while Crist's comments are "encouraging," Miller doesn't understand why his colleague cares where the statue is placed.

"The Daughters of the Confederacy put it there," Miller said. "What's wrong with giving it back to them?"

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] Follow @scontorno.

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