Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Carlton: The politics of feeding the homeless

This week brought two news stories about the city of Tampa and the empathy it shows its citizens.

Some of them, anyway.

You can't really begrudge retired New York Yankee star Derek Jeter for requesting help with the barrage of fans who regularly troop to his massive Davis Islands manse — taking videos, hoping for a glimpse of the World Series champ, even on occasion employing drones.

(I myself once reported a sighting of 20 empty boxes formerly containing size 11.5 Air Jordans at his curb for recycling, and no, I am not especially proud of this.)

This week, the city agreed to grant Jeter permission to install a gate taller than the rules allow with sheet metal backing to block a potential TMZ-style peek. And isn't this what we want city officials to do — to consider individual circumstances, to rule sensibly and even with compassion when it's warranted?

Speaking of which.

Just a short bridge away from tony Davis Islands, Tampa police charged members of a volunteer group called Food Not Bombs with the despicable crime of — you'll want to cover the little ones' ears for this — trespassing in a downtown park by serving food to a few dozen homeless people without a permit.

The fact that they had been doing this for years without a city permit in a park just outside the police station doesn't mean the crackdown had anything to do with all the fans downtown for the big college football championship festivities. And shame on your cynicism for even thinking so!

In the ensuing hue and cry, the Tampa City Council voted this week to look into the options that would allow such small-scale food distributions, something they manage to do in St. Petersburg.

Will empathy stretch beyond Davis Islands to other parts of town?

• • •

Those Food Not Bombs arrests now land on the desk of Andrew Warren, Hillsborough County's brand new, largely unknown and thus far untested state attorney.

When Warren ran against longtime head prosecutor Mark Ober in what turned out to be a stunning upset, his campaign resounded with themes of discretion and reform particularly for lesser offenses.

What could be lesser than the offense of setting up a couple of tables to feed hungry people?

The question is whether Warren sticks to the letter of the law or makes a statement right out of the box. Spokeswoman Rena Frazier declined to comment, saying they had not yet seen the case.

• ••

The state criminal court system is largely uncharted territory for Warren, who was a federal prosecutor working white collar crimes and fraud. Now he's in a grittier world of misdemeanors and murders, which must feel like suddenly becoming CEO of an unfamiliar company that you better learn about quick.

So here's an interesting rumor: Warren is said to be eyeing a familiar face in these parts — former Hillsborough prosecutor Nick Cox — for his chief assistant.

Cox, who has had many jury trials including homicides, has also been Department of Children and Families director for an 11-county region including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. He's now the statewide prosecutor for Attorney General Pam Bondi — rumored to be leaving herself for a Trump post.

Warren, the new guy, could do worse than Cox — accomplished, affable and well-known around here.

Cox couldn't be reached for comment, and Warren's office said only that they are looking at "strong candidates."

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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