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Tampa deserves the chance

A group of black public administrators have decided to cancel their April convention in Tampa because, they say, the city has a poor record on human and civil rights.

They cited the Christopher Wilson burning case, the plans to build a museum based on a pirate/slave ship in downtown, the repeal of a city ordinance protecting homosexuals from discrimination, and unwillingness of some elected officials to sign a cover sheet calling for more opportunities for African-Americans.

The decision was a matter of principle, said Randall C. Bacon, president of the Washington-based group. The group is entitled to that position, if they choose. But, on principle, we disagree.

Tampa, like other cities around the country, is struggling with issues of race, sexual orientation and inclusion. Much of that is the byproduct of increased minority participation in political and economic systems. While the struggle is sometimes loud and messy, the results ultimately should be positive.

Certainly that is true in Tampa, where a whole spectrum of black leaders, interest groups and organizations are coming forward demanding attention and in many cases, getting it. There is not always agreement on goals, or positions on specific issues, that is why we have elections and a political process. Gaining political power is seldom a sensitive, live-and-let-live proposition. Power is gained or lost through conflicts between those with power and those seeking it.

As for the specific issues cited by the group for not coming, we don't see the clear message that the group's board did.

The burning of Christopher Wilson, as tragic as it is, represents the blind hate of a few ignorant men, not the feelings of an entire community. Two of the men on trial for the crime have lived here only briefly.

A proposed pirate museum, if it is actually built, has been changed dramatically because of the influence of local black leaders. The Tampa Chamber has renegotiated an agenda for increased inclusion in all aspects of its business, and both sides have walked away from those meetings hopeful and enthusiastic.

Yes, voters did overturn a gay rights ordinance, but what has been clouded by that vote is the fact that Tampa was one of the few cities around the country with the courage to pass such an ordinance in the first place. And the political effort to keep the ordinance on the books had the clear support of all but a handful of the community's elected officials.

Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman said she was disappointed in the group's decision to bypass Tampa because the presence of 2,000 top black administrators could go a long way to dispelling any lingering racial stereotypes.

We're disappointed that the group didn't give this community a chance to prove that despite plenty of problems, many people here are working toward solutions.

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