Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In one day, fundraisers reach goal to move Confederate monument from downtown Tampa


TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners gave an ultimatum to the people who want a Confederate monument moved from downtown Tampa: Raise half the money yourselves or it stays. You have 30 days.

It took 24 hours.

A campaign to relocate the statue topped $180,000 by Thursday afternoon, well past the $140,000 goal, confirmed Tom Scarritt, the Tampa lawyer who organized the effort.

A call to action on social media by ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn kicked off what turned out to be a swift campaign.

Throughout the morning Thursday, donations to move the Confederate monument poured in: Up to $50,000 from investor and former Tampa Bay Storm owner Bob Gries, $5,000 from Dungy, and $1,000 each from Buckhorn and former Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink. Hundreds of individual donors contributed amounts ranging from $5 to more than $500.

As the effort snowballed, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce announced a $70,000 donation from its members, which included contributions from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bucs, Rays and Lightning put out a statement that "this monument does not reflect the values of our community" and that all three teams had "dedicated funds to assist in moving the statue from the public space" in front of the old Hillsborough County courthouse.

The surge started hours after county commissioners voted Wednesday to tie the fate of the 106-year-old statue, called Memoria en Aeterna, to the success of a public fundraising campaign to raise half the estimated cost of $285,500 to move the statue.

If the private sector did not donate half of the money needed in the next 30 days, the statue would stay in place, commissioners said in a 4-2 vote.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough will leave Confederate monument up if it can't get private money to move it

"Relieved," is what Scarritt said after the goal was reached.

The citizens, Scarritt said, "fixed the problem because it didn't appear that the county could." Choked up, he added: "I couldn't be more proud of my fellow citizens."

The county will now proceed to move the monument to a small family cemetery in Brandon, according to the plan previously agreed to by county commissioners last month. Meanwhile, county workers put wooden barricades around the statue out of an abundance of caution.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough commission votes to move Tampa's Confederate monument to Brandon cemetery

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Can Tampa's Confederate monument rest in peace at Brandon family cemetery?

Commissioner Les Miller, the catalyst for moving the monument, put out a statement thanking "the public for such an outpouring of support."

Scarritt will ask people who donated what to do with the $40,000 raised beyond the goal. It won't be going to the county commission, Scarritt was quick to clarify.

Gries said he hadn't followed the story closely, but felt that Tampa was being embarrassed nationally after he saw a CNN report on the County Commission's vote.

So he called Buckhorn and said he wanted to make a major contribution, hoping it would inspire others to do the same.

"We all love this community. We all love this country,'' said Gries, the founder of Gries Investment Funds in Tampa. "We all want to live in a place that doesn't promote racism or discrimination or hate or evil."

In a statement, the chamber criticized the county commission for deciding to "pass their responsibility to the business community."

"The monument and what it represents is inconsistent with what is best for our region," the statement said. "We look forward to working with our County Commissioners in the future to make more enlightened decisions."

Buckhorn called the County Commission's vote unprecedented, disheartening and "a blatant attempt to not do the morally correct thing.''

"There is a place for those statues," he said, "but it doesn't belong on the public square where people walk by that courthouse expecting justice. That statue does not represent justice for African-Americans, for Catholics, for Jews, for anybody."

Leaving the statue in place would kill the city's attempts to attract conventions and would discourage businesses from moving or expanding in Tampa, Buckhorn said. He went on to warn the commission not to put up any more obstacles to moving the statue.

"I would dare them," he said. "I think this community has said, 'Enough is enough. We're ready to turn this page.' "

It was County Commissioner Victor Crist's idea to make the monument's move contingent on private fundraising. Previously, the campaign was supposed to help pay for the move, but as of Wednesday morning, the GoFundMe page had raised just $7,000. People weren't contributing, Crist said, because they knew the county would pick up the tab.

In a way, Crist, who predicted organizers would have no trouble raising the money, was vindicated. In a text message Thursday, he said he was right.

"Now the liberals should be happy it's moving, the conservatives should be happy that the taxpayers are not paying for it, and the Confederate enthusiasts, while they will still be angry because it's moving, should at least be grateful that it's going to be moved safely and erected properly at a site where they could still go and enjoy it," Crist wrote.

David McCallister, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Judah P. Benjamin Camp and an activist who has pushed for the statue to remain, said his group is not surprised supporters met the fundraising goal.

"We're disappointed but we're not angry about it," McCallister said. "The point is, the people who did want to remove the statue needed to have some skin in the game. They needed to put their money where their mouth is."

Still, he lamented the pressure exerted by the business community, particularly the region's professional sports teams.

"How many Antifa members buy tickets to football games?" McCallister asked.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: After monument vote, Confederate activist named to Hillsborough County diversity council

Local officials who pledged money for the effort include Miller, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and Tampa City Council members Yvonne Capin, Harry Cohen, Luis Viera, Mike Suarez and Guido Maniscalco.

Tampa Bay Lightning wing J.T. Brown also gave $1,500. Brown said it was "hard to watch" the violence unfold in Charlottesville, Va., during a protest to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. A counterprotester was killed at the rally, which was attended by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Afterward, Brown, one of around 30 African-American players in the NHL, thought of his new daughter.

"How was I going to explain to my daughter if she was old enough, how would I explain why someone doesn't like her? Or why is this going on in the world today?" Brown said.

MORE: Lightning wing J.T. Brown on why he donated to remove Confederate statue

MORE: Rays, Bucs and Lightning join Dungy in donating to move Confederate monument

Times staff writers Tony Marrero, Richard Danielson and Joe Smith contributed to this report.

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