Sure sounded like this was shaping up to be a classic little-business, big-government battle, but with that special Tampa twist:
Man sues local establishment, saying he can't get around properly in his wheelchair there. Well-known business owner says, sure, he wants to comply with requirements for accommodating the disabled — heck, he even sets up a portable ramp — but says city zoning rules have kept him from making major improvements.
Oh — and did I mention we're talking about a strip club here, the strip club, Tampa's own Mons Venus, and club owner Joe Redner, who never shied from a fight?
You know, the eight-time political candidate who came oh-so-close in his last run and is currently vying for a state House seat?
Redner explains it this way: His strip club on busy Dale Mabry Highway, between Interstate 275 and Raymond James Stadium, is considered a "nonconforming use" when it comes to zoning issues. He says this means he can't get permits for major improvements to his property.
But Redner says he's never had a complaint from a customer in a wheelchair. "They get special treatment," he says. "I love them. I want them in my business."
Enter Kendrick E. Duldulao, who uses a wheelchair and who last week filed a federal lawsuit claiming he "personally visited MONS VENUS, but was denied full and equal access to, and full and equal enjoyment of the facilities within MONS VENUS" — and hold the jokes, please. He alleges a list of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ranging from a lack of ramps to a hostess stand too high to lack of access to the jukebox. Duldulao, who has filed many lawsuits against many businesses — restaurants, bars, a 7-Eleven, even — had no comment when I called.
"A cookie-cutter complaint," Redner said.
He says some of the allegations are just wrong — dancers, not patrons, control the jukebox in his place, for instance. But to the larger point: He thinks businesses should be accessible. Maybe he would cross-sue the city, he mused.
But when I called, Julia Cole, the senior assistant city attorney, said, in general, city code for a "nonconforming use" property allows for structural changes in order to comply with the ADA. Translation: They might be able to work this one out. Which sounded good to Redner.
So wait — this could end … amicably?
His storied legal battles over the years? The raids to enforce that all-important rule keeping dancers 6 feet from customers? Those days, over?
"The city — I don't think they think I'm the devil anymore," says Redner, who even admits to liking the current administration. A milder, mellower Joe? Can it be so?
Oh, but there's this. In between talking about the suit, he says he voted first thing Monday and plans to proudly wear his "I Voted" sticker to today's candidate forum at conservative Bell Shoals Baptist Church. Not his audience, but he's going, with gusto. Might even offer up a prayer to the judge who struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. Or maybe he'll ask how folks think Jesus would deal with immigration issues.
His ponytail still spills down his back, despite those who suggest he go for a more mainstream look. Joe says no. "Maybe trim it," he says. "A little bit," he says, and whew, you know Joe is still Joe.