Because I believe everything in life can be illustrated by an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, I wonder how Col. Nathan Jessup, as played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, might break down St. Petersburg politics:
"Now, are these really the issues that got you elected? Plastic straws and library names? Please tell me that you people have something more. St. Petersburg is at a crossroads. Please tell me its politicians haven’t pinned their hopes to plastic straws.’’
I jest, but not entirely.
Col. Jessup was revealed to be a villain in the movie’s unforgettable courtroom scene, but he wasn’t wrong about everything. And, honestly, St. Pete could use a little more of his cut-through-the-nonsense bravado.
City leaders proudly announced a new initiative on Tuesday to rid the city of plastic straws that sometimes end up polluting beaches and choking wildlife. That’s great, I suppose. We need to be more cognizant of the environment, and every little bit helps.
Except, a persuasive counterargument could be summed up this way:
It sounds like an oxymoron, but I wonder if St. Pete hasn’t gotten into a progressive rut. There are the plastic straws. Renaming the main library after former President Barack Obama. Discussions about mandatory solar panels. Challenging national campaign finance laws. Joining a lawsuit against the governor.
Each of those ideas (well, not the solar panel one) could stand by itself. In fact, taken on their own, I might even agree with them all.
But, collectively, they’re beginning to make St. Pete look like the liberal version of the Villages in Central Florida.
Mayor Rick Kriseman and most of the City Council members could argue that they ran on progressive platforms and are merely carrying out those missions. Except that’s the same sort of tunnel vision that blinds the Republicans who run Tallahassee.
Yes, the winners get to set the agenda, but they also need to remember they represent all of the people in their respective districts, cities or state. That means you shouldn’t ignore 49 percent of the electorate just because the other 51 percent put you in office.
And the reality is St. Pete has bigger issues than pet progressive causes.
Poverty has persisted, and in some ways gotten worse, in large pockets of the city. Children are being born into dire economic circumstances every day, and that cycle cannot continue to expand. It plays a role in the car theft problems we’ve seen, and the education woes, too.
Flood insurance and mitigation are going to be major problems in St. Pete at some point. Transportation is a never-ending puzzle. The redevelopment of the Tropicana Field land could be a transformative decision for decades to come. And the sewer mess hasn’t gone away.
Yes, I know, the city is working on these issues. And some may prove to be beyond the purview of local elected officials.
But at the rate they are going, some of these politicians are going to give the impression that they care more about political causes and careers than the people they are supposed to serve.
In his first term, Kriseman was both bold and decisive. He attacked major problems that had lingered for years — a crumbling police station, a stalemate on the Pier, indecisiveness on the Rays stadium — and the city stands to benefit from those pragmatic, emphatic choices.
We are only a handful of months into his second term. The City Council also has some fresh faces. So maybe there are big plans in the pipeline that we just haven’t seen yet.
But at this point, it’s looking more partisan than populist.
This week was just the last straw, so to speak.