The most intriguing political conversations in town once took place over fragrant plates of sea bass a la rusa served on white linen at Valencia Garden — where everyone who was anyone broke Cuban bread until the place sadly closed.
(A respectful pause to recall Valencia's oversized menus presented with flourish, the man-hugs and air-kisses between tables and the careful noting of who sat where and with whom. There will never be another Valencia.)...
09/12/14 Public Safety
Decades pass and the domestic violence cases never stop, always there on the docket with the DUIs and drug buys of first-appearance court.
He shoved her, the arrest reports say, he slapped her, he hit her with a closed fist. By now, Judge Walter Heinrich — for many years, a Hillsborough County arrestee's first shot at bail — has his admonition down to a stern soliloquy: Until this is resolved, you will not live with her, see her, talk to her, be near her, in any way communicate with her, about anything, under any circumstance. He is not playing....
09/11/14 Local Government
Across Florida, providing citizens with domestic partner registries has been a no-brainer.
Because here's the question at the heart of it: Shouldn't unmarried couples know their significant others will have the same basic and important rights as married couples in times of crisis? The right to visit them in the hospital, to make medical decisions when they can't, to handle funeral arrangements if the worst happens?...
"I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it's reality is a nightmare itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted (opinions) from the public has caused my family," said the woman who was punched unconscious by the semifamous football player, then her fiance, now her husband....
At the least, we should credit lawyer John "For the People" Morgan with knowing his audience in his recent and notable pitch to legalize medical marijuana.
There he was, that familiar round face from those TV commercials and billboards you see everywhere, live at the microphone at a rowdy Lakeland night spot after a debate with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. The reported venue: The Boots 'N Buckles Saloon....
09/03/14 Human Interest
So I just rode Busch Gardens' newest stomach-in-your-throat thrill ride, Falcon's Fury.
I'm not sure what this particular falcon was so mad about, but apparently the revenge is a ride that takes you 335 feet above the world strapped into a harness seat that leaves your legs vulnerable and dangling. For perspective, that's taller than the Statue of Liberty and so high over north Tampa that you can see clear to Tropicana Field in St. Pete....
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....