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More city and community leaders weigh in on MLK celebration debate

ST. PETERSBURG — The stalemate between state Rep. Darryl Rouson and community leader Sevell Brown over how to best honor the legacy of one of the country's most celebrated civil rights icons continues.

Other city leaders have started to weigh in on whether they think the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade should be moved to Saturday on Rouson's suggestion, replaced by a day of service. But most were loath to step into the middle of the dispute, saying they hoped the two men would work it out soon.

"I remain optimistic that the two can come together for the common good, knowing that this day is to remember, honor and celebrate the life of Dr. King," Mayor Bill Foster said Wednesday.

Foster said he told Rouson he thought the idea of a day of service is "appealing," but that he also will support whatever decision the parade planners make. Brown is against a Saturday move.

"I told them, 'Work it out,' " Foster said.

That hasn't happened yet.

Rouson, who's already secured $500,000 from the Legislature for his idea, said Brown hasn't answered calls or messages. Brown said Rouson should have come to him and the parade planners before floating the idea to city officials like Foster and City Council members months ago.

Council members Wengay Newton and Karl Nurse said they see a tremendous opportunity in Rouson's idea, and there's plenty of public service projects that could be done.

They also said it's no secret that activities that happen after the parade have long drawn complaints from residents. Large groups of crowds often gather along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and hang out, drinking and partying.

"The parade's a very positive thing," Nurse said. "I get complaints every year from folks in Bartlett Park about the parties afterward."

But moving the parade to another day might not solve that, officials said.

"It's not going to change people from congregating after the parade," Foster said. "That is a tradition, and we're not attempting to stop it. People celebrate in their own ways. … I don't have any issues with people gathering to have a good time as long as they don't break the law."

Officials said police services for this year's parade cost about $32,000. The aftermath costs another $50,000.

Rouson said he thinks moving the parade to the Saturday before might reduce those costs because there wouldn't be any holiday pay.

Ultimately, he said, he's just trying to honor King's legacy by getting the after-parties, which he described as "debauchery," off the icon's birthday.

Not everyone agrees.

"We are satisfied with what we have now. We are happy with the parade on MLK Day," said St. Petersburg resident Ada Davis, a Brown supporter. "I'm in agreement in doing things for the community, but you can do that the whole month."

Business leaders said they haven't heard strong opinions for or against having the parade or day of service on a particular day.

"I know merchants love it anytime there's activity downtown," said Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. "There's probably a way to do a little bit of both events."

Newton said even if both events end up on the same day, that might not be a bad thing. He said perhaps part of the service day could include a festival for those who would normally attend the after-parties. He envisions something that would offer health and career information.

"When the parade is over, the people just mill around for hours on end," he said. "It's a captive audience, so there's an opportunity there. That's where they need the services."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

More city and community leaders weigh in on MLK celebration debate 06/13/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 10:55pm]
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