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Freedman shouldn't be booed _ not yet

Sandra Warshaw Freedman, the mayor of Tampa, was booed at the hockey game Wednesday night.

Booed.

To be fair, witnesses disagree on how severely she was booed.

One said she was "resoundingly" booed.

Another insisted she was booed no more than, say, George Steinbrenner, whom we seem to boo out of habit.

Neither is there agreement on why she was booed.

It might be, as her spokesman John Dunn suggested, that the crowd was simply tired of the ceremony and ready for the game.

Half the people in the stands had been introduced individually by the time the mayor got up to proclaim it Puck Week, or something like that.

"Boo!" the crowd shouted. And others chanted: "Hockey! Hockey!" So she cut her remarks short.

"Hey," Dunn said he told the mayor, "I used to boo politicians at sporting events too."

Still, it seemed a little shocking. The mayor of Tampa, booed! And at the first season opener of a National Hockey League team she helped bring to town.

Naturally, some people wondered if the mayor's recent bad publicity had contributed to the boos.

You may have heard her husband, Michael, has been accused of wrongdoing in the Key Bank scandal.

"Take it to the bank, Sandy," one fan yelled. Said another: "Nice CHECK, Sandy!"

Mr. Freedman, the bank's lawyer, is not accused of murder or anything like that, mind you. He is accused of wrongfully keeping part of the bank's business secret from the feds.

If this is true, then he has done a bad thing, and he should be punished. We have had enough trouble from footloose and fancy-free banks.

If it is true. The usual custom is to let a jury decide.

Furthermore, there is no sign that her husband's business has had anything to do with Sandy Freedman's performance as mayor.

It is true that when Freedman ran for re-election in 1991, she leased campaign space from the bank's president. She got a good deal too.

I am not convinced that this proves anything against her. A lot of us know people, and maybe even do business with people, who later get in trouble.

I am not blindly sticking up for Sandy Freedman.

If she pops up on videotape, rolling around in the cash in Key Bank's vault . . .

If she got any kind of special breaks from them or knew about any illegal conduct . . .

If she changed the way she performed the city's business or the way she spent the people's tax dollars . . .

Then that would be wrong. The people of Tampa would be justified in holding her accountable.

But there is no evidence of any of that.

Sandy Freedman, for goodness' sake?

It seems unlikely.

Freedman has been mayor since 1986. She first joined the City Council in 1974, and in 1983 became its first female chair.

She has plenty of critics. She was almost run out of town when she told the police they couldn't take their cars home anymore.

Some people say she doesn't "lead." She is not a dynamic out-in-front person. She doesn't smile much.

But she has plugged along.

She has been a "neighborhood" mayor, stressing non-sexy things like housing fix-ups and law enforcement. She tore down crack houses.

She has not raised taxes in four years. She has cleaned up some of the debt and the mess left by her predecessors.

The city has an NHL team. The city has a convention center and a new deal for a convention hotel. The city is bristling with plans for an aquarium and a new hockey arena. All this is with minimal risk to the taxpayers despite pressure on Freedman over the years to reach deep into the taxpayers' pockets.

I wish that she'd been more straightforward about all this bad news instead of trying to hide. But I also know that she's always been reluctant to speak out, even when she should.

Look, if anybody likes to boo politicians, it's me. But not her. Not now. Not yet.

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