Sunday, June 24, 2018
Opinion

No fear, just loathing at St. Petersburg City Hall

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and City Council chair Leslie Curran make the Bickersons look like Ozzie and Harriet when Hizzoner refuses to meet with Curran unless a chaperone and food taster is also present.

Perhaps that snub explains why Curran is accusing Foster of ordering city employees not to have any contact with her, and if they do, to avert their eyes for fear of being turned into pillars of salt.

We're only talking about the governance of the state's fourth largest city, although you could be forgiven if you mistook the Fracas on Fifth Street North as something out of Podunk meets Dogpatch.

Historically, Foster and Curran have gotten along about as well as Keith Olbermann and … come to think of it, everybody else. But the acrimony is reaching the Gore Vidal/ William F. Buckley stratosphere of mutual loathing. Curran has accused the mayor of treating City Hall as if it was a Skull and Bones Society and banning her access to public employees.

The chairwoman was none too pleased to be excluded from a mayoral tour of the Melrose Mercy neighborhood to discuss housing. After all, Curran only chairs the council's housing committee. Why bother her with needless distractions like housing?

But Curran became royally irritated after word emerged of a possible deal to relocate the Tampa Bay Rays from their Quonset Hut with a gland problem to fancier digs in the Carillon area on St. Petersburg's northern edge.

Ah-ha, Curran seethed. The Rays deal was really the super double secret plan that Foster had been clandestinely plotting for months. And the chairwoman was not amused to be left out of the loop. Then again, it might be surmised Curran hasn't been amused by anything since 1967.

By Curran's reckoning, Foster had been sitting around like Ernst Blofeld petting his cat and feeding his piranhas, all the while conspiring with the dark but deep-pocketed forces of commerce to relocate the Rays. Meanwhile, she had to keep trying to stop council member Wengay Newton from speaking for more than 30 seconds.

Obviously, Curran is woefully confused. She gives the mayor far too much credit for being more conspiratorially adept than Game of Thrones. Everybody knows that Foster's secret plan to save the Rays has consisted of holding his breath and pouting.

And if that doesn't work, there's always the whining and crawling into a fetal position gambit.

Foster insisted the Carillon business park option was cooked up without his knowledge. That does have a certain resonance of truth.

Curran asked City Attorney John Wolfe to intervene, perhaps in the hope Foster might be persuaded to remove the moat, the concertina wire and the retired Stasi officers from the entrances to City Hall offices.

Wolfe declined, turned the lights off in his office and hid under his desk. This would have been a bit like trying to mediate a rapprochement between the Crips and the Bloods.

At the root of the animus between two of the city's most formidable political figures might be that Curran may run against Foster next year.

Curran has insisted she hasn't made the decision yet. And if you believe that, you might be interested in investing your life savings with the Bernard Madoff Federal Prison System Mutual Fund.

You can't deny a Foster vs. Curran kerfuffle would offer voters a stark contrast. Foster has carefully honed his big lug image and the ability to be on more sides of any given issue than Sally Fields' 13 personalities in Sybil. And if they ever do a remake of Cool Hand Luke, Curran would be cast as Strother Martin's prison warden — without the whimsy.

With the next mayoral election still a ways off, we'll probably have to be content with the squabbling Kramdens of City Hall. Not very entertaining, perhaps. But the ticket price is right.

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