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  1. Florida Politics

Carlton: A Joe Redner you may not know

Published Jul. 21, 2016

Joe Redner is on fire, mad at the state of the world.

Tampa's undisputed strip club king and official rabble-rouser is running for his umpteenth political office, for the state Senate, his toughest opponent being Republican Rep. Dana Young. When I ask why he's angry, he is up from his desk and pointing at stacks of press clippings and other damning documents laid out on a table in precise piles.

One stack is marked as being about political payoffs to special interests. Another says environment. ("It's like the world's going to go on forever and they've got no concern for the environment; it's who can make the most money," Redner says.) There's gun control ("Guns with kids on campus — are they insane?" he all but shouts.) Other piles are marked women's rights, education, transportation.

Here is why Redner says he's running, again: "I have the means, I have the mouth, and the common sense to know when I'm getting screwed," he says. "And I'm angry."

This is the Joe we know, dealing with our current mess of a world. It's the same guy who was getting himself repeatedly arrested back in the city's out-of-proportion battle against strip clubs, who declared himself gay to push a gay rights issue when he wasn't, who handed over a park he owns so protesters had a place to sleep, who continually irritated politicians by running against them. He is five years out from beating cancer, looking remarkably fit for 76 in his graying ponytail under his Cigar City Brewing cap, yelling about the absurdity of our minimum wage.

Here is a Joe I didn't know.

I bring up a recent news item about his son Joey Redner — a rock star in his own right who runs Cigar City Brewing. Son Redner had given a big contribution to Young, the Republican in the race who has supported the craft brewing industry, before his father jumped in as an independent candidate against her and Democrat Bob Buesing.

But the younger Redner did not back down after the elder declared. "I support my dad as my dad and I love him, but I think Dana is pretty effective," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "I don't agree with all her politics, but I also don't agree with all my dad's politics, either."

When this comes up, there is a deep pause.

"I love my son," the elder Redner says.

"It makes me want to cry," he says.

In Redner's office are a pile of plaques spanning decades. Besides all the ones that say "Best Strip Club," they name him the city's best troublemaker and local hero. He is not a man to try on political platforms for size. Right or wrong, the things he believes are in his DNA.

So maybe it is no surprise that when he talks about his son, his voice breaks and he sounds something close to heartbroken. Exposed and vulnerable is not exactly how we have come to think of Joe Redner. You do not expect a poignant moment in a warehouse office talking to a strip club king who loves his son.

We move on to other things: that he was so in it for Bernie Sanders he had a Sanders speech playing on a loop at his pizza joint near his world famous Mons Venus strip club. And that now, given that he thinks Donald Trump is "so dangerous," he's backing Hillary Clinton.

He says he thinks he can win his own race. "I know how to make noise," he says, sounding like the Joe we know.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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