Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough inching ever so slowly to a rail decision

There I was at a Hills­borough County Commission meeting when Mark Sharpe started looking a little like the Maytag repairman.

Remember him from the TV commercials, all lonely because nobody called? Except the Maytag guy was alone because everything was working so well. In Commissioner Sharpe's world these days, things are not.

A Republican who considers himself a fiscal conservative, Sharpe is the county voice making a case for a 1- cent sales tax for light rail, greatly expanded bus service and road fixes. Other commissioners have voiced support, but Sharpe's the guy showing up to take a beating at Republican gatherings and even a tea party event, the guy threatened with being run out of office, pardon the expression, on a rail.

"Americans build," Sharpe likes to say, sounding pretty Republican to me.

But lately, commissioners cannot seem to agree even on the 75 words they will (or maybe won't, given the turtle-ish speed at which things are going) put on the November ballot to ask if voters are willing to pay that penny for transit.

There was talk of being rushed. Some wanted the way the money will be divvied up (75 percent for bus and rail, 25 percent for road improvements) included on the ballot. Commissioner Rose Ferlita brought along her own ballot language — that would be Option 3, if you were counting.

Heck, I'm not sure they agree on the meaning of the word "ballot" at this point.

Tampa's biggest voice for rail, Mayor Pam Iorio, was in the audience that day as the commission parsed and niggled and ultimately voted to do, well, not much. I saw her close her eyes and bow her head at the latest slowdown for something this big, this important — a proposal she later said had been studied and vetted and considered longer and more thoroughly and by more people in more corners than almost any other in her political career.

I read her bowed head as a request for divine guidance.

Here's another thing I don't get: Commissioners who voice support for getting transit on the ballot but who say it doesn't have a chance with voters, or those who think that agreeing to put it on the ballot doesn't mean they actually support it. Yes, in this economy, it may not pass. But doesn't this sound like bet hedging? Like testing political waters without making a commitment?

Forget the tangle of politics here. Don't you, like me, want to know if your elected officials believe this is the right thing to do?

Normally, when Sharpe talks rail, he is like a highly caffeinated, majorly wonkish Energizer Bunny. Commissioner Jim Norman can call rail "a noose around the neck of the taxpayers," and Sharpe comes back with its popularity in Phoenix, Charlotte and Salt Lake City, or 60,000-plus daily riders in Dallas, or 45,000 in Houston.

But this day, he sounded subdued, even after he got surprising and enthusiastic applause from the audience for his pitch about America, and building, and getting this in the voters' hands.

At today's meeting, the commission will again talk transportation (not to mention the major distraction of whether to fire the county administrator, attorney and auditor).

Will Sharpe stand alone in his convictions?

Will others express some?

As we inch toward November, we'll see.

Hillsborough inching ever so slowly to a rail decision 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 8:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa International Airport morphing into a mini-city unto itself


    TAMPA — By the end of the 2026, Joe Lopano wants Tampa International Airport to function as its own little city.

    Artist rendering of phase two of the $1 billion construction expansion of Tampa International Airport. The airport is transforming 17 acres of airport property that will include at least one hotel, retail and office space and a gas station, among other things.
[Courtesy of Tampa International Airport]
  2. William March: Sheriff Gee denies his resignation was timed to help GOP


    Sheriff David Gee is denying through spokesmen that he planned his 2016 re-election and subsequent resignation to help Republicans hold the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. But Democrats say it seems obvious he did.

  3. Trump meeting with G-7 leaders after going on offensive


    TAORMINA, Italy — In the Middle East, President Donald Trump was feted with pageantry, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel seemingly in competition to outdo the other with the warmth of their welcomes and the depth of their pledges of cooperation.

    From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Donald Trump and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni arrive for the group photo at the G7 Taormina summit on the island of Sicily on Friday  in Taormina, Italy. [Getty Images]
  4. Perspective: As the toll climbs, advocates bring renewed attention to Florida gun violence


    Times Staff Writer

    Like most 12-year-old girls, Ra'Mya Eunice loved slumber parties.

    The Empire State Building in New York City was bathed in tangerine light last year to mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day. It was part of the Wear Orange campaign led by the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety. [Courtesy of Everytown for Gun Safety]
  5. Lawyer says Kushner willing to cooperate with investigators


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is willing to cooperate with federal investigators looking into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, his attorney said.

    In this May 23 photo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, left, and his wife Ivanka Trump watch during a visit by President Donald Trump to Yad Vashem to honor the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem. The Washington Post is reporting that the FBI is investigating meetings that Trump's son-in-law, Kushner, had in December 2016, with Russian officials. [AP photo]