Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

George Packer, who documented Tampa's housing bust, returns on book tour

In late 2008, New Yorker writer George Packer visited Tampa for a story about Florida's foreclosure crisis. Soon after, he began work on The Unwinding, a memoir of sorts of the last 30 years of America, told through several people and places.

Tampa is one of those places. While Packer's portrayal may have been overstated by a New York Times reviewer ("Tampa … seems like hell on earth"), it's fair to say local tourism bureaus will not be sending complimentary copies of The Unwinding to prospective tourists.

Packer returned Friday on his book tour, and talked to the Tampa Bay Times before an appearance at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.

Did you cringe as you read "hell on earth," or do you think the review accurately depicted your portrayal of Tampa?

I cringed. It seemed a bit extreme. But it's up to readers here to decide whether it's a fair portrait. This is sort of where the American dream kind of went bust. A lot of people turned to real estate as a way to make money rather than their jobs, because the economy wasn't that good other than in real estate.

You could have set a story about the real estate crash in several cities. Why Tampa?

It was sort of the accident of having a friend who had just gotten back and hearing a description from him. When I got here, with a friend, we drove around all those subdivisions on State Road 54, U.S. 41, and it was visually shocking. Seeing a street paved, with streetlights, and even little cutouts for driveways, but the houses hadn't been built. Or paved streets, but no streetlights. Or paved streets, streetlights, and houses, but no people. It had this eerie feeling. Kind of beautiful on the surface — the sky is aquamarine and those stucco houses look so new, and so clean — but where are the people? And what's happened to them?

The book focuses on Hillsborough County's light-rail referendum that failed in 2010. Is rail something you think could have been a boon for Tampa?

I couldn't call myself an expert, but it seemed like a good step. It seemed like the only step away from the model that had failed. There were no other ideas on the table.

The book also focuses on the Hartzells, a lower-income Tampa family. How do you think their lives would have been different if they'd lived in generations prior?

(Danny Hartzell) would have a blue-collar job as a welder or worked at a packaging plant.

Those jobs disappeared, and with them, his ability to give his family a decent standard of living.

Instead, he was forced to be a part-time stocker at Target and Walmart.

The Hartzells have actually fallen on very tough times right now, and I'm hoping some of the attention from the book helps them out. The family has remained incredibly cohesive in all this trauma, which is incredibly unusual.

Packer's interview was edited for space and clarity.

Comments
Hernando County commissioner arrested on prostitution charges

Hernando County commissioner arrested on prostitution charges

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, 71, was arrested Thursday by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on multiple prostitution-related charges.Nicholson was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center on one count of opera...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Federal regulators are poised to impose a $1 billion penalty on Wells Fargo for a variety of alleged misdeeds, including forcing customers to buy auto insurance policies that they didn’t need, according to people briefed on the regulatory action. The...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

LARGO — Detectives are asking the public’s help in identifying a man who broke into a home and confronted the owners with a knife.According to Largo police, the man entered about 3:40 a.m. a townhouse at 7360 Ulmerton Road holding a large black knife...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Retiring Tampa cop’s son pleads guilty to hazing in death of FSU student

Retiring Tampa cop’s son pleads guilty to hazing in death of FSU student

TAMPA — A Leon County judge sentenced the son of former Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin on Monday to 60 days in jail for a role in the November hazing death of a 20-year-old Florida State University student. Christopher Hamlin, 20, was one o...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

TAMPA — At the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, hotelier Ian Schrager transformed a Jazz Age building with its own rich history into a destination offering even more heady experiences — extravagant, edgy and bohemian.In Tampa, Schrager will have...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Out early: Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Out early: Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

The Bucs' 2018 schedule won't be officially released until 8 p.m. with the rest of the league, but the Times has obtained a copy of the schedule, which shows a challenging start for Tampa Bay.The Bucs open with three division champions back-to-back &...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

CLEARWATER — A longtime IBM executive is becoming the new leader of Tampa Bay’s largest public company. Tech Data on Thursday named Richard "Rich" Hume as its new CEO effective June 6. Hume joined Tech Data two years ago and is currently the chief op...
Updated: 2 hours ago