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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Pier A tale of two cities

Published Apr. 9, 2015

It was toward the end of a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board a few days before he was sworn in for a second term when Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was asked an idle question.

Just for the fun of it, if he were mayor of St. Petersburg, how would Buckhorn have handled the fractious debate over what to do about the Pier, the city's answer to Fred Sanford's junk-strewn front yard?

Without missing a beat, Hizzoner replied: "It wouldn't be there."

Civics question? Is there any way Tampa can annex St. Petersburg — just long enough at least to get the dynamite in place below the inverted pyramid?

Buckhorn's unequivocal response to curing the hamlet's long-running mope opera was telling, underscoring the differences in the role of the mayor in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Tampa has a long history of aggressive mayors — Sandy Freedman, Dick Greco, Pam Iorio and most recently Buckhorn. And while all these figures brought a different style to the job, the one thing they share in common is the willingness to break a kneecap or two to get things done.

In St. Petersburg, the more recent trend has been to treat the job like a T-ball league for 7-year-olds where everyone gets a trophy. And that would be fine — if St. Petersburg was Dogpatch instead of a major city with major issues.

You have to have a certain degree of sympathy for the guy who has the job of presiding over St. Petersburg's collection of Hamletesque ruminating over — everything. Mayor Rick Kriseman entered City Hall full of delusions of grandeur that in short order he would resolve the Pier piffle and get things moving on resolving the stadium dithering with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Alas, Kriseman finds himself in a community-wide snitfest over selecting a replacement for the Pier that makes the Iranian nuclear negotiations look like a dance around the Maypole. Meanwhile, the mayor has been blocked from a deal that would allow the Rays to begin looking for a new stadium site in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties because the City Council is acting like St. Petersburg will turn into Two Egg-On-The-Bay if the Rays move out of the city but stay in the metro area.

As for Buckhorn? At the risk of deepening St. Petersburg's lively paranoid persecution complex, the mayor has a site in mind for the potential new Rays ballpark, an area between the Channel District and Ybor City.

And that's largely because Buckhorn is guilty in the first degree of doing what mayors are supposed to do — "Go execute (a decision) and live with the ramifications," Buckhorn shrugged. "You have got to make decisions."

So could anyone really blame him if Kriseman, fed up with all the hand-wringing and foot-stomping on the part of the Pier-As-The Eiffel Tower crowd, woke up one morning and made two decisions?

First, perhaps with an assist from MacDill Air Force Base, the Pier would be targeted by F-15s for missile practice. Problem solved — in about 30 seconds.

Next, Kriseman calls up Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and offers to buy him lunch — in Tampa, where as fate would have it, the two men just happen to run into Buckhorn at an Ybor City eatery. And great winking and nodding ensues.

Back in St. Petersburg, the outrage explodes as the village's swells pick over the now imploded ruins of the Pier and the City Council grumbles about Kriseman's Machiavellian duplicity.

Pressed by the City Council to explain how it was possible for the F-15s to mistake the Pier for the Avon Park bombing range and why have Buckhorn and Sternberg been spotted getting Rays tattoos in Ybor, Kriseman merely shrugs: "Yeah? So?"

And finally great progress ensues.