The violence in Charlottesville, Va., crystallized for much of the nation the danger of refusing to address painful symbols of the past. But not so in Hillsborough County, where the County Commission on Wednesday reversed itself yet again and left open the possibility of leaving a Confederate monument outside the downtown courthouse. This was a monumental display of cowardice by four Republicans indifferent to the need for moral leadership in this uncertain moment.
It is beyond bewildering that in the shadow of Charlottesville this commission would see any reason to continue this public relations disaster, much less change its position for the third time. It voted in July to reverse course and move the monument, after a Brandon family agreed to host it on private property, and after Tampa attorney Tom Scarritt agreed to remove the memorial with private money.
On Wednesday, four commissioners gave Scarritt 30 days to find the money; otherwise, the monument remains. Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White have been dangerously playing with the racial politics of this issue all summer, seeking to appease a band of Confederate supporters, who have spun the memorial as an ode to Florida's history rather than as a noxious symbol of racial oppression. And moments after the monument vote, these same four commissioners appointed a key advocate for keeping the memorial in place to the county's diversity council. That's rubbing salt into an open wound.
The commission tried to sugarcoat its initial decision to keep the monument by agreeing to waste $300,000 in tax money for a mural at the site and an anti-racism campaign. Now it doesn't want to cough up $100,000 to move it, and it gave the private sector — which took this lightning rod from the commission's lap — 30 days to raise the money or else. These four showed an astounding lack of leadership and backbone. They pressed and pressed for a way to not do the right thing.
In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman took less than a day to move a small Confederate marker. In Baltimore, the mayor ordered four statues honoring Confederate heroes to be moved literally overnight. In Hillsborough County, the hand-wringing over removing just one memorial is taking all summer and commissioners still can't get it right.