08/29/14 Public Safety
You could see the news unveiled this week out of Hillsborough County schools as either alarming or encouraging — take your pick.
The positive: Of nearly 2,000 public high school students who responded to a survey, 98 percent expressed a sense of belonging in their schools. Call me cynical, but given that we're talking teenagers in ninth to 12th grade, I would expect a number way more, well, cynical....
If you have ever spent time at the library, in the cool quiet with the dusty-clean smell of books all around you, these may be bleak words:
Our state's newest public university, the just-opened Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland, features an 11,000-square-foot library.
A bookless library.
And is that the ghost of John D. MacDonald off in the stacks, quietly weeping? Oh, wait, there are no stacks....
08/26/14 Public Safety
Even as the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., slowly plays out with the world watching, a lot of people clearly believe they already know the truth:
This was an overzealous cop from a mostly white department policing a mostly black community, with the victim both unarmed and black.
Or, this 18-year-old who had just committed a robbery was the aggressor when he crossed paths with police....
Tampa has its interesting public art, from metal horses on Bayshore Boulevard to theatrically lighted downtown bridges to all the sculpture, statuary and such in between.
But sometimes we struggle, artwise. A massive metal sculpture nicknamed the Exploding Chicken once graced (or marred, depending on your perspective) a respectable corner outside a tall downtown office building. A bona fide Sugarman piece, it was nonetheless shunned and exiled until it was recently reborn at a kitschier spot in a traffic roundabout near the Channelside entertainment complex. It seems much happier there....
The news, if you are Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, is not news. Daily reality, and part of the job of representing the city's poorer neighborhoods, yes. But not news.
Already we knew about the Tampa Bay area's grim distinction as one of the deadliest places in America to try to cross the street. But the latest headline put some eyebrow-raising numbers to it: Pedestrian deaths are nearly three times as likely to happen in Hillsborough County's most impoverished communities (and nearly twice as likely in Pinellas), according to a study by Governing magazine....
If, within the stodgy confines of a school board it is possible to be a rock star, for a minute there it was April Griffin.
Or if not a rock star, at least what looked like a hit-the-ground reformer.
She showed up plain-talking about practical career and technical education as viable options for students. She pushed for transparency in a sometimes opaque Hillsborough County school system, bucked the administration and championed special needs. She wanted answers....
08/08/14 Human Interest
This week, the Tampa City Council earnestly discussed the fate of graffiti.
(No, not the spray-painted tagging of old buildings, but graffiti that are local tradition: College rowing teams visiting from far and wide have long painted their school colors as calling cards along the Hillsborough River sea walls. Urban mosaic, you could call it.)
But as the politicians sat in their air-conditioned chambers discussing whether a chunk of this should be erased in the name of prettying up the new Riverwalk, just across downtown some sweaty kids skated across a different graffiti tradition, one that's also about to disappear....
The storied story of E.J. Salcines — the courthouse success, the crushing defeat, the resurrection so complete you could even call it redemption — is one for the book on Tampa politics.
He has been a powerful Latin statesman in this town, a son of West Tampa who never met a stranger and who, for 16 years, was Hillsborough County's top prosecutor. But in the 1980s, he faced a federal investigation by then-U.S. Attorney Bob Merkle on allegations of bribe taking and case fixing. It was a moment for Tampa, old guard and new....
08/05/14 Human Interest
The trick to being a City On The Move — by now, practically downtown Tampa's official slogan — is balancing the best of the old with all of the shiny new.
A historic courthouse remade into a fancy hotel, a seedy hotel restored to its former chandeliered glory, graceful old bridges lighted up in arty colors at night — we can do that.
So here is where I get whimsical about graffiti....
Not as pretty as they are depicted.
— Christopher Columbus, on coming upon what he thought were mermaids but turned out to be manatees.
I beg to differ.
Of all the strange and interesting things that make up Florida, naturewise — and they are legion, from ingeniously constructed bugs to a seemingly infinite variety of shorebirds, lizards and snakes — one of the best has to be the manatee....
With the primary elections mere weeks away, mailboxes are filling with interesting missives.
Among the usual campaign pieces with The Other Guy In The Race photographed looking either sinister or stupid, one notable local ad features a noble-looking fighter pilot standing next to an impressive-looking jet.
Vote Absentee for Norman Cannella for Judge, it says. DISCIPLINE HONOR RESPECT....
Once upon a time, an antigay, anti-Muslim, "pro-Christian" platform could do wonders for getting you elected in the conservative corners of Hillsborough County.
But the world keeps turning.
Slowly, state by state, people are being allowed to marry whom they want. Even here, miracle of miracles, county commissioners are warming to the idea that gay and transgender citizens deserve the same basic protections as everyone else....
07/25/14 Human Interest
Tampa lawyer Laura Ward wants to be a judge. And campaigning with her in her race against former chief prosecutor Karen Stanley is her father, former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ed Ward.
Those on the campaign trail say he is everywhere. He has sent letters to legal notables, working connections. He's on her website and in her speeches. A pamphlet she leaves at voters' doors shows him smiling in what appear to be judicial robes, holding his daughter when she was little....
So a Tampa City Council member walks into a bar. And another bar. And another bar.
No, it's not the stress of this city — the busy, beery part of his South Tampa district in particular — that has council member Harry Cohen haunting Irish pubs and cocktail lounges along teeming South Howard Avenue. (SoHo, to those in the know.)
For weeks he has been sipping a ginger ale here, a seltzer there, on a fact-finding mission along the SoHo entertainment district through trendy Hyde Park. The goal: some kind of rapprochement between residents and bars and restaurants that range from Bern's steak house and the chi-chi new Epicurean Hotel to World of Beer. Not to be confused with nearby Yard of Ale....
07/22/14 Human Interest
The signs, a bright, guilt-inducing red, sprouted overnight like mushrooms along the grassy curbs of my regular shortcut through an old Tampa neighborhood.
Please, they implore me and the other cut-through drivers behind me: DRIVE LIKE YOUR KIDS LIVE HERE.
City streets, even very residential ones like Ridgewood Avenue where kids play, dogs get walked and neighbors are out being neighborly, are open for all of us to drive. Of course. This town's prettiest street in fancier South Tampa, the winding waterfront Bayshore Boulevard, belongs no more to the residents of the mansions along it than to the barefoot guy sitting on the seawall watching the boats go by....