Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

Sue Carlton: Forget city pool politics — kids just want to swim at Williams Park

The kids were antsy. Who could blame them?

A July sun blazed overhead. A precious few weeks of summer remained before it was back to school again. In bathing suits and baggy trunks, the kids fidgeted. They held foam swim noodles at the ready, waiting for the go-ahead to jump into the cool blue waters of the city pool before them.

And the grownups kept talking. Sigh.

But you had to give the grownups their moment, given the politics it took to get here. You had to allow them their ribbon-cutting and their applause as the Williams Park Pool officially reopened Tuesday in an East Tampa neighborhood that could use it.

City Council member Frank Reddick was one of the grownups standing poolside in shirt and tie in the baking sun. No one could accuse him of not wading in on this one — figuratively, when he butted heads with the powerful and popular mayor, and on this celebratory day, literally.

After some words for the crowd, Reddick toed off his dress shoes, peeled down his socks, rolled up his trouser cuffs and waded in ankle-deep for this moment in the sun. Around him, the kids jumped in. Finally, you could almost hear them say.

Two years ago, this very pool set the scene for some politics that may have caught even the savvy mayor unaware. But some saw an issue as divided as haves and have-nots and as obvious as black and white.

Both the city's Interbay pool in monied South Tampa and this one in a less affluent community had closed in 2009 because of safety requirements.

Interbay reopened in 2011. Williams pool sat empty still.

Some in this neighborhood — and Reddick, who represents them — saw disparity there. Pointedly and publicly, Reddick implied he would vote against the mayor's budget unless it included money to fix Williams, too.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn pointed out Williams' problems were more extensive. But he also fired back at that budget jab with one of his own: "I only need four votes," he said, as in, it would only take four of seven city council members to get his budget adopted, so, whatever.

Yikes.

An aside here: The issue of funding city pools can be a controversial one. Certain city pools have been estimated to not get much use. This is confounding, if you have ever witnessed the interactive fountains in downtown's Curtis Hixon Park that fill with children daily. If pools are under-used, maybe the city needs to scrutinize events that are and are not held there and how the neighborhood is informed and welcomed. It is hard to fathom any Tampa pool would not get used.

The mayor later said there was always money to fix Williams once there was a doable estimate. Reddick said he was glad for the change in tone.

And with $1.3 million in repairs done, both were there Tuesday to reopen a pool closed four years in a neighborhood that clearly could not wait to dive in.

Reddick said it became a sort of passion, making sure kids here had the same chance to swim in a city pool. The mayor — who even in a charcoal suit appears not to sweat — credited Reddick for keeping pressure on him and the administration.

And then it was just a big city pool filled with kids of summer, splashing and shouting and being any kids anywhere under the sun.

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