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Can't a political point just be a political point?

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford has proved more than once that there is not much she won't say.

But about Ford's latest eyebrow-singeing statement, one labeled racist by some and denounced on the steps of City Hall this week:

Sometimes, isn't a political point just a political point?

Maybe the venue didn't help. Last week, Ford (and later her rival Bill Foster) went on the air with radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge.

Now you might wonder why either candidate would want to talk politics with a DJ infamous for once airing the castration and killing of a pig or for getting in trouble with the FCC for some seriously sexual material.

But around here, Bubba's got his audience, and apparently both Ford and Foster wanted in.

With Ford, Bubba was talking about Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis, who was the city's first black police chief.

Bubba referred to him as "quasi-leader of the African-Americans" and opined this was "talking down to them, that they have to have somebody to quell them and keep them in line."

Ford — never afraid to pull the pin on a grenade — then brought up noted black Princeton professor Cornel West's H.N.I.C. theory, one with which she agrees.

In its politest version, H.N.I.C. stands for Head Negro In Charge.

"We don't need one spokesman for a group," Ford said.

This is actually an important point in terms of how she would and would not run the Mayor's Office — one lost in what followed.

At City Hall a group of people, many already supporting Foster, denounced what she said. Others, notably state Rep. Darryl Rouson and St. Petersburg NAACP president Ray Tampa, defended her. Best comment on TampaBay.com about this and politics in St. Petersburg in general lately: "No fistfight?"

Was what Ford said an unfortunate use of a potentially offensive term — if not in substance, then because it contains one version or another of the N-word?

Yes.

Is what she said something that should not be thrown around lightly or without careful consideration?

Yes.

So points off for insensitivity, though Ford was never really running on the kinder-and-gentler platform.

But racist? Not seeing it.

Why did this kick up into a campaign issue? Because of decades of race being marginalized in politics, and politicians who sidle up during election season for the "black" vote only to disappear afterward.

But Ford has said before that she aims for inclusive city government beyond the imperious we-boys-know-best brand.

She has said before that she wants different groups in St. Petersburg — black people, gay people — to have her ear, not just that of a staffer.

(But on her claim that she wasn't talking specifically about Goliath Davis? Sure sounded like it.)

If you find what Ford said on the radio that day offensive, you have the absolute right to be offended. But hopefully you're offended by its substance, and not by an ugly label that can obliterate any chance for discussion once it is uttered.

Because to my ear, that's not what she was saying. And I hope voters go for or against her because of what she did.

Can't a political point just be a political point? 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 9:27pm]
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