05/01/15 Human Interest
I met Steve Gruetzmacher at his office, which is what he called the bus bench he regularly commandeered near the Walgreens at the edge of downtown Tampa.
You could find him there sitting with a friend — the streets are safer in twos, he said — or reading the paper, or holding his ragged cardboard Anything Helps sign asking motorists for cash, or just watching the world pass him by. When we met, he kept a can of beer in a paper sack within arm's reach....
04/30/15 Public Safety
Tampa's own Eric Ward, a cop who has done pretty much everything in the Tampa Police Department in his 26 years rising up the ranks, becomes his town's police chief in what you could call interesting times.
It is a moment when everyone in America knows Ferguson, when questions smolder on the streets of Baltimore, when we are confronting issues of police power, poverty and race.
Ward, 48, whose exhaustive resume includes working everything from street crimes to the marine unit to the SWAT team, won't be Tampa's first black police chief, something that happened three mayors ago. But if you doubt an eye toward diversity from the mayor who appointed Ward top cop Thursday, you have only to recall that Mayor Bob Buckhorn's recent inauguration festivities included ministers both Catholic and Baptist, a rabbi, a gospel choir and a gay men's chorale, just for starters....
Sometimes it seems like there's not enough actual Florida left.
In many places, we are an endless stretch of highways and strip malls, gas stations and golden arches, same as anywhere else in America.
But then maybe you get lucky enough to find yourself wandering one of Florida's state parks, with real Florida all around you. Might want to hurry, though. Those Tallahassee politicians are pondering big plans for your parks....
04/14/15 Human Interest
TAMPA — Dick Greco, Tampa's long-serving mayor and the face of his city, would want his fellow citizens to know the sky is not falling. He is not committing an act of treason. He will not abandon his town.
But this much is true: Greco, raised on West Tampa devil crabs and Ybor City Cubans, is leaving Tampa for St. Petersburg.
Except, he insists, not really. "I don't want anyone to think I'm leaving Tampa — I'm not leaving Tampa," he said Tuesday. "I'm just going across the bridge."...
04/10/15 Human Interest
Warren Elly was a man who fretted.
Really, you have never seen a newsman worry the way Warren did, pacing the halls of the Hillsborough County Courthouse, sure there was some big story he was missing, more documents out there he had not yet unearthed, some cop or lawyer he knew ready to whisper something golden in his ear if he could just find them.
He was such a nervous Nellie about getting the story — a trait that made him invaluable to his bosses back at the TV station and probably cost him a fair amount in Tums over the years — that fellow reporters in the rough-and-tumble courthouse sometimes had fun pretending they were working some big secret tip. Though this was doubtful. Not much going on Warren didn't know about....
There was a lot not to like about those proposed plea deals for three Tampa lawyers accused of setting up an enemy attorney for a DUI arrest.
For one thing, the agreed-upon penalties — one lawyer disbarred for at least five years and 91-day suspensions for the other two, with everyone having to apply for readmission — seemed a tad light, given the scandal's smear on the legal profession....
Doling out those happy "proclamations" at public meetings has to be one of the least controversial things elected officials do. Or it should be, anyway.
Suitable for framing, the fancy gold-sealed documents peppered with ornate "whereases" and "therefores" ceremoniously acknowledge everything from retiring librarians to National Empowering Women Day. No, I did not make that up.
But around here, even ceremonial proclaiming can get political — and tell you a lot about the politicians involved....
It's the morning after Tampa's city elections, and surely the question on everyone's mind is:
Just how did Mayor Bob Buckhorn manage to fight off that fierce election challenge from the lone write-in candidate who, interestingly, once tried to run for the Legislature while in prison?
Kidding — the popular mayor had no real race.
But for the kingmakers, gadflies, gossips and political junkies among us, it's never too soon to speculate. So the real question is:...
John Jonchuck, the clearly mentally disturbed father accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, from a bridge near the Sunshine Skyway to her death in the waters below, is incompetent to stand trial.
Given no motive we've heard that could begin to make this make sense — revenge, greed, anger — no kidding.
And there is something grimly notable about this latest....
To the surprise of pretty much no one, former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, poster-guy for Florida's flawed "stand your ground" law, will officially not face federal civil rights charges.
The non-news came this week as the Justice Department closed its investigation into the infamous shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager Zimmerman spotted walking through a Sanford neighborhood on a rainy night three years ago and assumed the worst....
Call me cheesy, but I vote on election day.
No mail-in or early voting for me — I like the bustle of the old-church-down-the-street-turned-precinct, the supporters waving warring campaign signs, the neighbors streaming in to vote and, finally, the I-Voted sticker I wear all day. (I really like my I-Voted sticker.)
But this year, for Tampa's upcoming city elections, I gave up.
Not on voting. But with turnout Tuesday predicted to be somewhere in the pathetic teens, election day seems lackluster. This week, I early-voted at the library. Had the place to myself. Tumbleweeds blew by. No sound but the crickets....
02/20/15 Human Interest
If you care about such things — if to you Cuban bread is not just what's holding together the meat, pickle and Swiss but a tradition in itself — the story in the newspaper a while back might have made you wistful. At least until you heard the rest.
It was about the bread at La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor City, one of those disappearing neighborhood places you step into like time travel....
People say there's not enough good news in the news. (Seriously, would you read it? Today, not one elementary school went on lockdown due to a criminal on the loose. No horrible crimes happened. Lawmakers did not push idiotic legislation like, say, allowing guns on college campuses, and not one person you elected made you regret it.)
Still, in the spirit of good news, here are pending legislative efforts neither earth-shaking nor life-changing, just small and sensible and sane. Hey, it could happen....
He was all but ousted from politics because of the questionable provenance of a certain lovely lakeside vacation home in Arkansas.
Housegate, you could call the scandal that felled the once-powerful Hillsborough County Commissioner-turned-state Sen. Jim Norman.
But around here we do like to recycle, even our politicians. Norman is in the headlines again.
To hear him tell it to the Tampa Tribune recently, his problems were really just badly handled PR. And what's more, he's considering a countywide commission comeback run next year....
Like the initial headlines about Hillsborough County Judge Eric Myers weren't troubling enough.
The judge stands accused of hitting his wife until she blacked out during an argument at their home. He has reportedly countered by saying she attacked him first. Both are under investigation in what promises to be a spectacularly messy case — although not one that was generally expected to end Myers' career on the bench....