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Sue Carlton, Times Columnist

Sue Carlton

Sue Carlton is a native Floridian from a longtime Southern family that her father always said consisted of thieves and cattle rustlers run out of Georgia. She grew up in Miami and joined the Tampa Bay Times in 1988. Over the years she has covered community news, politics, cops, government, and her all-time favorite, criminal courts. For nearly nine years she wrote about the kind of strange cases that only seem to happen here, about intriguing legal issues and courthouse politics. On that beat, she authored a lengthy narrative series on a trooper who killed his wife and co-authored a series on a suburban mother murdered by her teenage daughter and her friends. Sue was the deputy editor of the features section and was the Tampa city editor before she became a columnist in 2005. Three times a week, she writes about politics, outrages, observations, court cases of the day and whatever else comes up. She lives in Tampa with her husband and their very good dog.

Phone: (813) 226-3376 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3376


  1. Old library, new buzz

    Local Government

    It's old, but the big gray library at the edge of downtown still has this quiet energy, the low-key bustle and hum of the city around it.

    Kids hefting skateboards drop their voices as they head into the hush. Homeless men commandeer computers or unfurl newspapers for long reads. Bookish types bury their noses in work, little kids beeline for picture books, and locals wander the shelves.

    For nearly half a century, Tampa's John F. Germany Public Library has been part of a downtown that boomed and busted and now is beginning a boom again. Around it, residential towers rise and restaurants open and a new Riverwalk meanders past....

  2. Carlton: Just say no to Gray Thursday (and pass the cranberries)


    On Thanksgiving Day, when I am madly making the most important meal of the year, I will need something.

    Without fail, I will lack for enough butter or brown sugar, or pepper for the turkey-shaped pepper shaker. Once, I completely forgot cranberry sauce, which, truth be told, tends to sit largely untouched on our table every year. But we must have it, or risk the kids ever after telling the dark family tale of The Time We Went Without Cranberry. It's tradition, after all....

    Retailers are trying to get holiday shoppers to buy early — such as Thanksgiving Day — so they can avoid Black Friday scenes like this one last year at a Target in Tampa.
  3. Carlton: People who swim with sharks (and those of us who don't)

    Human Interest

    Funny how what's scary depends on who you are.

    Some of us get on a plane with no more worry than taking a walk, but far fewer parachute out of one for fun. Some will pay for the theme-park thrill of being menaced by creepy zombies at Halloween, while others find the actual world frightening enough. Me, I spend time around politicians, reporters and lawyers. But I would Not. Swim. With Sharks....

    Zeke and Nikki Szekely get instructions Wednesday from Florida Aquarium staffers before diving into the tank.
  4. Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley's twin sister, opens up about effects of Petraeus scandal

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — The scandal swept through Tampa society like a late-season hurricane, taking down no less than the retired four-star general running the CIA.

    But the news two years ago this month of David Petraeus' career-ending extramarital affair had nothing on the local sideshow: doe-eyed, raven-haired, twin sister socialites who partied with top military officers — Jill Kelley and Natalie Khawam....

    Natalie Khawam says the wild parties reported by news organizations were often charity events and fundraisers. “CentCom would have a community leaders event. There was nothing party-ish about it.”
  5. Coming Friday: Jill Kelley sister Natalie Khawam breaks silence about Gen. David Petraeus scandal

    Human Interest

    The scandal swept through Tampa society like a late-season hurricane, taking down no less than the retired four-star general running the CIA.

    But the news two years ago of David Petraeus' career-ending extramarital affair had nothing on the local sideshow: Two raven-haired, twin sister socialites who partied with top military officers — Jill Kelley and Natalie Khawam. ...

    Natalie Khawam, left, Gen. David Petraeus, Scott and Jill Kelley and Holly Petraeus watched a Gasparilla parade from the comfort of a tent on the Kelleys front in 2010. [Times (2010)]

  6. Carlton: Police body cameras may help keep everyone in line

    Public Safety

    A police officer is accused of beating up a suspect during an arrest. The officer denies it. One man's word against another. Whom do you believe?

    Someone is shot and killed by a cop who says he had no choice. Turns out the dead man didn't have a weapon. How do you sort out the truth?

    Tampa will soon join a growing list of cities arming officers with a valuable tool that could cut both ways in critical situations — and do a lot for transparency and trust, too....

    In January, Tampa police will don 60 individual body-mounted cameras that could look this one to record routine traffic stops, police calls and serious situations. The cameras will take in valuable evidence of what did and didn’t happen. 
  7. Carlton: Dangerous reputation, cool new bikes — can it work?


    Something caught the collective eye of people leaving a busy downtown lunch spot this week and made them stop for a look:

    At a row of bikes parked along the curb.

    No, we are not that starved for entertainment in Tampa. This was a sneak preview of a much-heralded, soon-to-launch bike rental enterprise for downtown. And these were some bikes, sleek and upright, sporting jaunty metal baskets and painted the sunniest, most optimistic shade of blue....

    Coast Bike Share will soon launch in downtown Tampa.
  8. Carlton: Mayor Buckhorn for governor? Stranger things have happened


    Here is the worst-kept secret in Tampa politics: Mayor Bob Buckhorn might want to be Florida's next governor.

    The city's everywhere-mayor has long been in the rumor mix for Tallahassee 2018. Tuesday's re-election of Republican Gov. Rick Scott — and the crushing defeat of newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist — could not be better for his chances.

    If (insert here a caveat you'll be hearing for a while) the ambitious mayor decides to make a go of it....

    A mayor who has overseen a city's transformation - and a downtown medical school, maybe, and the possibility of baseball - would get noticed. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times]
  9. Carlton: Beer-town Tampa now ready for cocktails on the river

    Local Government

    Scenario No. 1: Imagine downtown Tampa, former gritty port town with a perpetual chip on its shoulder, transformed into a different sort of city — one cool enough that residents, out-of-towners, diners, bar patrons and concertgoers could stroll along its riverfront, sipping beer, wine and cocktails.

    Or, Scenario No. 2: Imagine Tampa's Riverwalk, a wide path that runs between restaurants, parks and hotels from one end of downtown to the other, transformed by drunken hordes of beer-swilling revelers — and the city is left to deal with the ensuing alcohol-related headaches. (Oh, wait — that's Gasparilla.)...

    Diane Gangi, from left, Debbie Bell, Don Gangi and Doug Bell enjoy sangria Thursday at the Columbia Cafe along the Riverwalk in Tampa.  The City Council decides next week whether to allow limited drinking along the Riverwalk, outside the restaurants.
  10. Carlton: A sign of Hillsborough School Board rancor


    What fun — if you happen to find a particularly combustible mix of politics and personality fun.

    So there's this school superintendent and this school board member who are often at odds. On issues large and small — like school bus safety and financial accountability — their headline-making clashes have not always been pretty. Or likely to inspire confidence in the citizens they serve, either....

    Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia has put a sign in her yard supporting Dipa Shah.
  11. Carlton: In Tampa's city of celebrities, Joe Maddon was ours

    Human Interest

    Okay, I know Joe Maddon belonged to the Rays before their sudden and awful split last week. But he belonged to Tampa, too.

    We certainly get our share of carpetbaggers who don't seem to take to this place. And then there are the all-ins who like it so much they make it better — late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the Lightning's Jeff Vinik. When Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano got here, he couldn't stop talking about the ospreys. Maddon, above, has been one of those....

    Joe Maddon, who recently resigned as Tampa Bay Rays manager, could often be seen biking around Davis Islands and just being a regular guy in Tampa.
  12. Carlton: Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe scans road beyond politics


    When you are a local politician — a caffeinated, in-the-thick-of-things one like Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe — a weekend trip to your South Tampa Publix can be more of a meet-and-greet. Between the deli chickens and the dairy aisle, people bend your ear on everything from mass transit to talk of a downtown medical school.

    "Dad," Sharpe's teenage son asked him on a recent such trip, "you going to miss this?"...

    TP_339415_WALL_Lee_16 (06/02/2011 Tampa) Hillsborough County Commissioner for district 7, Mark Sharpe. [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]
  13. Carlton: Weirdness in electing Florida judges is still as good as it gets


    Campaigning to be elected judge in Florida must sometimes feel like one of those strange dreams — the kind in which you're running but can't get anywhere, or trying to do something with your hands, only they're as big and clumsy as oven mitts.

    As a judicial candidate, you knock on doors, attend voter forums, visit editorial boards and wave signs on street corners asking people to vote for you, just like other candidates....

  14. Carlton: William LaTorre's trial changed how we think


    When Pinellas County chiropractor William LaTorre made headlines again — this time, with news of his suicide Thursday at age 73 — we remembered his trial. How could we not?

    The horrific boat wreck 25 years ago left four teenagers dead. And it was the first criminal case I ever followed that utterly changed from what we were sure we knew at the beginning, the verdict inevitable, into something completely different. Before O.J. and Rodney King, even....

  15. Carlton: Tampa snobby? Now that's a good one

    Human Interest

    Those annoying lists that rank cities are everywhere lately. They can be relevant, like the one about which towns you're most likely to die in while riding a bicycle. (Okay, here.) But they can veer off into the absurd, too, like, say, towns in which people are most likely to show up to court in flip-flops. (Okay, also here.)

    Travel + Leisure magazine's recent list of America's Snobbiest Cities starts out predictably enough: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Boston. Glam, culture, snoot, sophistication, history. Got it....

    Snobby? Our best known piece of bona fide public art is widely referred to as the Exploding Chicken. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]