Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Carlton: In a time of Trump, politicians want free parking?

In a time of Trump, this is not your best idea.

Think about it: The brash, bombastic billionaire is soaring with his we're-not-gonna-take-it, I'm-for-the-little-guy campaign schtick. So perhaps public officials pushing to give themselves free parking — even at the local level — is not so advisable, given an electorate clearly in no mood for anything that smells suspiciously like a perk.

Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin floated the idea last week: Council members, she said, should get free parking at any city parking lot, garage or metered space, any time, and for as long as they need it.

"Just like the mayor," she said, and, "I think it's appropriate." Which made me wonder if this was a bit of a sore point.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who by the way has not been shy about flexing that strong-mayor-form-of-government muscle in clashes with the council, has a driver to take him to events. So circling city blocks looking for that elusive downtown parking space, waiting in line on the sidewalk at the pay station, plunking in the required coinage or credit card are not an issue for the city's mayor.

And that's gotta rankle, right?

No, Capin told me this week. Council members go to lots of events and serve on plenty of boards, and free parking makes sense.

And so the City Council voted 5-1 to draft an ordinance (with Mike Suarez voting no and Charlie Miranda out of the room). It should be said that the initial vote did not mean they are all in for a parking perk — only that they gave their council colleague the courtesy of being heard, a tradition I find rather civilized.

In fact, I'm betting this idea withers pretty quickly once the first round of outraged citizens hits the podium, armed with the fact that council members get a $1,800 yearly car allowance and 24-hour reserved parking spaces by City Hall and can also be reimbursed for parking. (Capin says she uses that allowance for everything from visiting other cities to see what might work for Tampa to buying postage stamps for her office.)

The mayor said the chance that he would allow such a parking perk to pass — and he hasn't vetoed a single thing in five years in office — "is probably slim and none." The council could override him with five votes, but seriously — is giving yourself free parking the one you go to the mat on?

Capin has hardly been a let-them-eat-cake sort of politician. She's been thoughtful on issues including Cuba and how Tampa can best position itself for what now seems inevitable — a trip she paid for herself — and also making the most of the city's cultural assets. She has not been afraid to push back against the mayor. The best case she makes for that parking perk: added incentive for young, aspiring politicians. Okay, but no. Still not such a good idea.

Because I enjoy a little theater with my politics, I was sorry Miranda, the council's elder statesman, was not present for that first vote. He's the real everyman, the unTrump, the guy in all black to mourn taxpayers on the hook to pay for a football stadium, the politician who declines that $1,800 car allowance. Still, I bet he would have been gentleman enough to vote to let it go forward initially. This is Tampa, after all. So this will likely end with no drama, after all. At least we have the race for president for that.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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