You can buy a hot dog at night in St. Petersburg now, but be careful where you speak your mind

Good video, lousy fight. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where old guys kept saying to Jerry, "You think you're better than me?" and then they would act tough and strain something.

The Brawl at City Hall started Thursday with a St. Petersburg City Council member's brother telling another guy in the audience to leave town if he didn't like the council's decision. The other guy replied, and I hope I am not being too explicit here, with a rude dining suggestion.

So the council member's brother charged, putting a hold on the back of Guy No. 2's neck that may or may not have been Greco-Roman. But Guy No. 2 seemed to get the upper hand, or at least, the top position when they went to the floor. A few seconds later the whole thing was over, and they were both yelling about their ages and being elderly victims.

Well! I confess a whole new regard now for the St. Petersburg City Council (motto: "My Big Brother Can Beat You Up"). The idea of kinfolk out in the audience, willing to duke it out with opposing citizens, adds an exciting angle to the municipal democracy.

Unfortunately, the Brawl at City Hall detracted from the news of the day, the City Council's decision to reverse itself and turn over a downtown public sidewalk to BayWalk, that struggling retail, restaurant and movie complex.

Two weeks before, the council had deadlocked 4-4, a setback for Mayor Rick Baker. But the rules in St. Petersburg appear to be that you just keep voting until the right side wins.

The point of giving up the sidewalk is to shut down public protests. Over the years various groups, notably the Uhuru organization and St. Pete for Peace, had used the public access to protest. Although there are a lot of reasons for BayWalk's troubles, everybody seized on the protests as Problem No. 1, and decided the sidewalk had to be made private, to keep out the riff-raff and make customers feel better.

In my book (apparently a minority opinion), there is no way to gussy this up. We can rationalize that it's Just This One Time (although I doubt that seriously). We can say those protesters are still free to go Someplace Else, even across the street. We can say that Decent People ought to be able to go to the movies without unpleasantness. We can say that BayWalk is economically important.

But no matter what we say, this is still an American government shutting down public space in America for the specific purpose of blocking free speech by Americans.

Not that most people seemed to care — most of what I heard was Decent People saying, "Good riddance."

Here the protesters were mostly radical/liberal types, but I would think conservatives should be a little nervous, too. What happens if that next Obama-lovin' health-care forum is labeled as a "private" event? What happens if the government gets the same wise idea about TEA parties and 9/12 marches? How come the Citizens for Decency aren't worried about where they're going to get to protest the next Hollywood outrage?

Still, the news was not all bad. Later, settling another controversy that has, you know, dogged the city, the council agreed to allow street vendors to operate downtown after 9 p.m. The citizens of St. Petersburg may now freely purchase a hot dog on the public streets — they just have to be careful about where they speak their minds.

You can buy a hot dog at night in St. Petersburg now, but be careful where you speak your mind 10/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 7:27pm]

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