02/11/16 Human Interest
Last week on opening day of the Florida State Fair, Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober walked the midway to ensure that the games of chance were legal, that those tantalizing jumbo stuffed animals and sacks of live goldfish could actually be won.
This was not just homey tradition. This was in fact a legally spelled-out duty of the state attorney. (See: Florida Statutes 616.24 (2), Public Fairs and Expositions.) Wielding tape measures and scales, the state attorney and his staff came to toss baseballs, throw darts and shoot water guns in the name of fairness at the fair....
Once I was renting a car at Tampa International Airport, headed south to write about places freshly uprooted by the latest hurricane.
The clerk behind the counter politely pushed the usual extra insurance (thanks, I have insurance), tried to get me to upgrade to an SUV (car is fine) and then a new one: a GPS device, back when such things were big and clunky and novel — and a bargain, the clerk assured me, at $60 a week. No thanks, I said....
In a town rarely lacking for political gossip — or gossips, for that matter — news that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was headed to New Hampshire this weekend to campaign for Democrat-for-president Hillary Clinton had people whipping out their stubby pencils and calculating odds.
Two theories often get debated over power breakfasts about what's next when Buckhorn term-limits out as mayor — a job he would surely keep if he could....
This is a true story about getting around town. Or at least trying.
I'm driving from my office to a meeting in a downtown Tampa building not far away — except the street where I need to turn is now closed. Not just closed, but behind the orange traffic barrels and barricades, it looks like a war-torn, bombed-out city block.
I dutifully turn at the "detour" sign, only to find construction workers busy as bees narrowing a four-lane street down to one for no immediately apparent reason. I inch forward through three painfully slow traffic light cycles, turn and find a whole new set of workers — these, jackhammering concrete in preparation for giant pipes nearby....
What will investigators looking at allegations of cozy relationships in the awarding of a fat Hillsborough County contract ultimately find? Were any actual crimes committed?
And what sort of person would have to be part of that investigation for everyone who's closely watching to trust the answers we expect any day now?
More on that mystery man in a minute in what's as close to a cliffhanger as local politics gets....
Saturday will mark the first year in decades that Dick Greco, four-time Tampa mayor and city icon, will not be a presence in the Gasparilla parade and festivities.
You will not see him glad-handing his fellow pirate powerful. He will not pose for pictures along the parade route with all those strangers who are just friends he has not yet met. He will not tip back a traditional brandy-laced milk punch over at the yacht club, and he won't toss beads to the sauciest of wenches along Bayshore Boulevard....
It looks like Citigroup, which already has 5,500 employees in Hillsborough County, is looking for a possible corporate campus of up to 1 million square feet, and that the 40 downtown acres by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment fund is in the running.
The New York-based banking giant is well into discussions with more than one local developer. The possibilities include creating a larger campus at a new location or keeping Citigroup's existing operation at Sabal Park near Interstate 75 and finding additional space elsewhere. A decision is expected in the next couple of weeks. All the finalists are in Hillsborough County....
TAMPA — Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco is recovering from surgery after being admitted to Florida Hospital after complications from a hernia.
Greco, 82, was out of his fourth surgery Thursday morning and appeared to be doing well.
The four-time mayor and city icon said he had been feeling the hernia for a year before he finally went to the hospital last week in serious pain. His message from his hospital bed Thursday: If you have a condition, don't wait....
Campaign checks flow to sitting county commissioners from people who stand to benefit greatly from their upcoming vote.
Lobbyists paid to sway commissioners often can't be bothered to properly sign in or state their business so the public has a record of who met with whom — and why.
And everyone's on pins and needles awaiting a Sheriff's Office report on allegations of county cronyism in the handing out of a big contract....
One afternoon a month in a busy Tampa courtroom come some unlikely moments in a city's struggle with the homeless.
Rows of hard wooden benches are filled with street people still in scruffy coats against the wintry weather outside. Most are middle-aged men, plus a few women, who have run afoul of city ordinances by holding up signs that say "homeless and hungry," panhandling or selling water by the road, or drinking a beer too close to a convenience store....
Here was a reason given a couple of years ago to justify a law that would allow people to walk around with guns exposed at the beach or Gasparilla like Florida was the Wild West:
People with perfectly legal concealed-carry permits were being harassed and arrested by police for inadvertently exposing weapons, open-carry proponents said — like when the wind lifted someone's shirt or a gun poked from a hole of one man's shorts. And no, I'm not making that up....
01/19/16 Public Safety
He was the best-dressed undercover narcotics cop anyone can remember. And he was good at his job, people say — people being not just cops and prosecutors who are part of the tribe, but also defense lawyers not naturally inclined to compliment someone skilled at putting their clients in jail.
When Tampa police Detective Jose Feliciano met up with high-level drug dealers for a buy, he sometimes pretended he stuttered, or he was deaf, disarming them into believing he was one of them, a regular guy. It helped to be bilingual and charming. He was soft-spoken and slight, but he rode big Harleys. Always, he looked the part of the well-heeled cocaine dealer....
Headlines from the week that was:
At least someone in Hillsborough schools remembers church and state
In what could be the next big controversy for a school district rarely without one, eyebrows are raised over the Hillsborough school system's involvement with church and Christian-based groups.
No question, community contributions like mentoring and volunteerism are a huge boon for schools. But some people have been rightly taken aback that mega-church Idlewild Baptist's contributions in Hillsborough also include training and motivational sessions for school administrators and shirts with Idlewild's logo for teachers....
So the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional our state's way of sentencing killers to die — a method that gives judges, and not juries, the final say.
The news, reverberating to Tallahassee and beyond, made me think of one case where this might have actually worked.
Except it didn't.
Humberto Delgado, once a police officer himself, had a history of delusions and psychotic behavior and had at some point believed police were out to kill him. Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts could not have known this on the night in 2009 when he stopped Delgado, who was homeless and pushing a shopping cart on his way to a veterans hospital. The officer could not have known about the four guns in Delgado's shopping cart....
01/12/16 Human Interest
Listen, I wouldn't bother plunking down that $2 for a Powerball ticket tomorrow if I were you. Because to tell you the truth, I'm planning on winning it.
In fact, I've been planning on winning for nearly 30 years now, since Florida first opened its lottery for business by convincing us this was not just gambling but also a big boon for education. I've shelled out a dollar or two a week, and but for some free tickets and modest monetary prizes, it's safe to say I more or less haven't won yet....