Monday, January 22, 2018
Politics

Sue Carlton: Mayors, politics and Pride: A tale of two cities

Next week, a city's mayor will smile and wave to the crowds in a big parade.

And this is news why?

Because we're talking about a city's mayor and not the city's mayor. And because we're talking Pride.

This year, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will be riding in a convertible at the St. Pete Pride Carnivale parade, the signature St. Petersburg event celebrating the gay and lesbian community and attended by thousands.

Did I mention it's in St. Petersburg?

Do not, however, expect to see St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster in the St. Petersburg parade. (More on that in a minute — and it may surprise you.)

The Tampa mayor's willingness to cross the bridge for this is no big surprise. Buckhorn after all enthusiastically supported Tampa's adoption of a domestic partner registry for unmarried couples and recently encouraged the Hillsborough County Commission to reverse its embarrassing ban on county government even acknowledging the existence of gay pride.

No, what makes Buckhorn's planned presence in the Pride parade particularly notable — beyond the chance that he might show up in those preppy plaid pants of his that are so loud they surely violate his own city's noise ordinance — is that no St. Pete mayor has done the same.

Mayor Foster has been much better than his predecessor in acknowledging the significant contributions of his city's gay residents. Foster, a conservative Christian, supported a domestic registry and extended same-sex partner benefits to all city employees.

And while the previous mayor acted as if all those people gathered for one of St. Pete's biggest events pretty much didn't exist, Foster has been infinitely more welcoming. While he has not ridden in the parade or signed Pride proclamations in the past, he has written a letter of support, seen the parade, and attended a pre-Pride event on occasion.

And this year, Foster has signed the proclamation.

Maybe to some that's just his name scrawled on a ceremonial piece of paper. To a lot of others, though, it's a gesture of goodwill and a sign of progress. "A big step," says Pride's executive director Eric Skains. "It means a lot to the community. It was a great move on behalf of the mayor this year."

So does this mean we might see Foster himself waving atop a convertible — a different color one than Buckhorn's, of course — in a historic mayoral act that could even eclipse the prospect of plaid pants?

"As far as the parade, that is the day I'm moving my baby boy to the University of Florida," Foster told me. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, he said, "when you take your kid to college."

And do I hear something that sounds like Foster might just ride next year? He feints and dodges. "Let me get re-elected," he demurs — a side-step, but maybe also a step forward.

Tampa and St. Pete have this simmering sibling rivalry all about whose city is coolest — funny, since they are so different they could be separated by multiple states instead of just a bridge. Tampa is bigger and brassier, St. Pete hipper and artier. The rivalry can get as big as the fate of the Rays, as small as getting Wi-Fi for your downtown parks. (Tampa's ahead on that one.)

So maybe it's okay for our cities to move at different paces. As long as they're both moving forward.

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