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LET'S REMAIN ON A DEMOCRATIC PATH

BayWalk sidewalk

I am concerned about the proposal to give away a public sidewalk to private interests.

We can all comprehend the knee-jerk reactions underlying the desire to do away with the perceived nuisance that protesters, young people and occasional vagrants may cause for business. But we regular citizens are not these "undesirables" who are blamed for turning away shoppers. We are the consumer/citizens who are feeling the economic pinch of these times and working, voting and hoping for an improvement of our overall condition.

Most of us on every part of the political spectrum can appreciate a more important and overriding principle, that of our freedom to congregate and practice free speech. Whether we oppose health care reform and defend our right to bear arms or want gay rights and an end to war, we want our basic right to be and speak in our downtown. Giving a public sidewalk to the owners of BayWalk would give them the right to decide our rights as citizens on those sidewalks.

BayWalk is in effect our town square. Western culture is founded in many ways by our ability to walk and talk freely in a centralized location. Our thoroughfares, as well as our government, should be free of any one class of interests. Otherwise we risk falling away from our democratic principles.

It behooves us all to guarantee the rights of young people, protesters, frustrated shoppers or strolling families to flow and mingle in public. During these hard times, we need to open spaces rather than close them down; otherwise we may be creating more social tensions to add to the already heated economic situation.

Let people walk, talk, meet and greet even if they are venting on politics or religion. Better that than other, more destructive behaviors that historically befall societies that begin to curtail the public's need to congregate and express itself. As long as there is no violence or harassment, let people be engaged and out freely enjoying their community. We'll all be better for it.

For the sake of our public health, safety and constitutional principles, please do the right thing and keep our sidewalks public.

Ernesto Difilippo, St. Petersburg

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Clear choice for mayorSept. 2, editorial

Foster's gay stance is quite relevant

I agree that there are some clear differences between Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford on the issues of concern for the city of St. Petersburg. However, I take exception to your comment that "Foster has at times been intemperate in describing his conservative social beliefs, but those views have little to do with being mayor ..."

Foster has been quite clear about his opposition to including gays and lesbians in a human rights ordinance. He vehemently opposed an ordinance that would have protected gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing and employment. That is, he defended the position that it should be perfectly acceptable to fire people or to refuse them housing because they are gay or lesbian.

In my opinion, this is quite relevant to being mayor. This is a civil rights issue.

You note that "he has pledged to uphold constitutional rights and protect civil liberties." Do you really believe that he would wholeheartedly uphold "civil liberties" against which he so vehemently fought? I agree with Foster on many issues, but I draw the line at bigotry.

Even if you continue to support him, please be honest and be specific in your paper about what you consider "irrelevant."

Ellen Levett, St. Petersburg

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Clear choice for mayorSept. 2, editorial

Foster has been hostile to science

World-class scientific research is being conducted right here in St. Petersburg. A major portion of that research, including medical, biological and geological research, is based on understanding of Earth's history and evolution.

In the past the Times has supported the expansion of scientific research and science education in the heart of St. Petersburg. Yet the Times is now supporting for mayor of St. Petersburg a candidate that the Times previously reported to be openly hostile to science and credible science education, blaming everything from the rise of Hitler to the Columbine massacre on what he dismisses as "theory."

Should we entrust the city to someone who doesn't understand enough about science to know that a scientific theory is based on an extremely strong base of scientific evidence? Can we seriously expect Bill Foster to support and promote scientific endeavors and innovations taking place in St. Petersburg?

Pamela Muller, St. Petersburg

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Merging fire services still an option - Aug. 23, story

Why not merge governments, too?

The possible merging of fire services, explored in a St. Petersburg Times article, is an interesting subject. I am a retired chief from another state. This subject came up often in my 21 years as chief. In fact, there were quite a few times when I presented the idea to local politicians.

The area I lived in had eight communities that I recommended merge their services. Most thought it was a great idea until I mentioned that they should also merge governing bodies. Instead of eight mayors, just one; instead of eight managers, just one; instead of eight lawyers, just one or two; instead of a host of useless politicians, a reasonably reduced number.

I explained how much money could be saved by doing this, but for some reason the idea was always shelved after I raised the point.

Perhaps these fired Pinellas fire chiefs or others might want to look at the subject from this point of view. It could make for some interesting debates, not to mention the overall cost savings to taxpayers.

James Bendinelli, Palm Harbor

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Parks, education should be free

A recent letter writer, commenting on the rising fees in our parks, states, "It's time for us to pay the piper," and we are "playing catch-up" for not paying fair value for parks. She also mentions the same logic for Florida universities.

I have enjoyed the parks and also the benefit of both Florida State University and the University of Florida. These great benefits enabled me to provide 30 years of specialized science teaching at considerably below scale. Education, parks and beaches were a big part of it as it allowed me to raise my three children in a great atmosphere, economically. I am not the exception among Florida citizens. An old saying: "In Florida you get paid in sunshine."

Let us consider what I think should be a universal idea. The sun, sand and water should be absolutely free and accessible to everyone. Is it not God-given? What kid should ever be denied access because he does not have a few shekels in his pocket? (In Hawaii it is free even in front of the Royal Hawaiian or Sheraton.)

The same applies to education, pre-K through grad schools, as much as you can take, free.

How to pay for it? Simple, just cease all wars and prevent the need for trillion-dollar banker bailouts. Divert the money for civilized needs like parks and education.

Henry L. King, Clearwater

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Buses are empty - Aug. 30, letter

Here's a thought: Get on the bus

The letter writer noted that the empty Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses observed on the routes in the Largo area are an "enormous waste" because they are so often empty. He (or she) observed this over the course of three years of watching the buses along the route the writer usually drives.

Might I suggest that the letter writer, and others, then ease this "enormous waste'' by riding the bus? I ride the bus, or my bike, every day because I got rid of my car. I've lost 20 pounds, saved money on car payments, insurance and gas, and contributed to the city with my bus fare.

Kimberly Weiss, St. Petersburg

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