A decade ago, in my hometown of Philadelphia, a congressman took a bribe from an undercover FBI agent. As usually happens in such cases, the politician went to jail. His name was Ozzie Myers. He wasn't smart enough to recognize a setup, but he had his own peculiar sense about the way life works. "Money talks," he said in one immortal breath, "b------- walks."
We do not currently have politicians like Ozzie Myers in Tampa, which is a good thing for government, but a bad thing for reporters and anybody else seeking enlightenment. If Ozzie were around here, he would understand the latest developments in the flap over Super Bowl and Gasparilla in a heartbeat.
"Money talks. . . ." he would say to all us do-gooders who have been wringing our hands and clucking our tongues.
You get the rest.
I don't mean that what was said and done to loosen up Tampa's establishment and improve its race relations before the current uproar was done insincerely. Hardly anybody was more well-intentioned than the mayor.
After she was elected four years ago, Sandy Freedman spelled out her wishes symbolically during her swearing-in. On hand to participate were a rabbi, a black preacher, a woman judge and, to translate the mayor's speech, a deaf signer.
This woman brimming with do-gooder ideas was going to shake up this town. No longer would it be run by a male cabal the size of a Scout troop.
Later _ acting on the same earnest principle and in response to racial trouble at College Hill _ the mayor pleaded in private with local executives to open up their companies' ranks and boards to minorities and women.
Nobody snickered at her. Instead, they mostly ignored her.
But now this remarkable thing has happened. Democracy has crept tentatively into most of the private clubs, not to mention the Gasparilla parade.
Almost as though they all sat down and decided simultaneously to move, the three best-known bastions of social privilege, the clubs dominated by the business bigwigs of Tampa, have taken tiny steps forward.
The University Club admitted a black man. Palma Ceia let a black man play on its golf course. The Tampa Yacht Club is looking for black members. About the same time, Anheuser-Busch decided to lend its deep pockets to the Gasparilla parade as a sponsor and gave the struggling new parade a terrific boost.
Ye Mystic Krewe, the crowd that used to run the parade and much more, is in the figurative cold.
The shake-up that Sandy Freedman, among others, sought finally began. But good intentions had nothing to do with the change.
Realizing that resisting change would make Tampa into a national joke was what did it. It would be bad for Tampa, and that would make it bad for business. Or, to borrow from Ozzie Myers' eloquent observation, "'Money talks. . . ."
It certainly talked in Shoal Creek.
A month after it was disclosed that the host course for the PGA Masters had no black members, IBM abruptly pulled out of TV sponsorship. Other big corporations followed suit.
They decided they couldn't afford to look as if they were backing racial prejudice. Like magic, Shoal Creek admitted a black man.
No social revolution was won, but a corner was turned. As in Tampa, a goal got reached, miserably late, but reached nonetheless.
If I had a nickel for every time I wrote about Tampa's exclusionary clubs in this paper, I would have a pocketful of noisy change now. Not a single word I wrote or anybody else wrote or uttered before the NFL figured out Gasparilla made much difference.
It's too bad we didn't ask Ozzie.