In Tampa, particularly in the sweltering summertime, public pools can get political.
As in seriously political.
A few years back, a then-city councilman called for reopening a city pool in a less affluent community and threatened a no-vote on the mayor's budget. The then-mayor pushed back, saying he had done the math and didn't need the councilman's stinkin' vote. ("Stinkin'" was implied.)
But after the headlines, the pool got done and both mayor and councilman were on hand that hot July day when kids finally got to jump in. (The mayor even gamely donned a ducky float over his jacket and tie. It's Tampa.)
So, yes, politics. But today, what two long-closed city pools mostly are is a shame. And a waste. Kids walking past them on sun-baked sidewalks on summer break might not even know they're there.
Next to the storied West Tampa Little League is the Baldomero Lopez Pool, locked up for 12 years now. Across town off Interstate 275 next to the Seminole Heights library, the Angus R. Goss Memorial Pool has been shut down for a decade (Save Our Pool, says a hopeful sign on the fence.) Both were named for Tampa-born heroes — Lopez, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Korean War and Goss, a decorated Marine killed in World War II.
Those pools, both behind city walls painted in beige and brown waves that must have been stylish at some point, have taken on the look of forgotten graves, filled in and grown over with grass.
Okay, so back to politics: Tampa's new mayor, Jane Castor will soon take her billion dollar budget before the seven members of the city council, all who no doubt have pet projects, specific issues and constituent causes in mind.
For Councilman Guido Maniscalco, and I still love that we have someone on the council named Guido, that's two pools people in his district could really, really use.
The city would want you to know Tampa has a dozen public pools, plus parks with splash pads that squirt and spray and cool people off. The two pools in question are not the glorious historic ones on Davis Islands and in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, nor the Olympic-sized pool south of Gandy Boulevard. These are the kind of basic, neighborhood public pools where a whole lot of people, me included, learned to swim.
"You do not have a lot of homes with swimming pools in their backyards" in these particular communities, Maniscalco points out. "They're walkable. It gives young people something to do."
And the bones of them already exist. And the neighborhoods want them back.
The Seminole Heights pool would cost about $900,000 to repair and reopen, according to a 2011 study. Costs for the West Tampa pool weren't included in that study.
The question, then: Would Maniscalco withhold his vote on the mayor's budget unless he gets money for his pools? Is this another storied and fiery stalemate in the making?
Different mayor, different city council. So on that one, maybe not so much.
"My relationship with Mayor Castor has been good," Maniscalco says. "She's very open and receptive. She calls, she reaches out, she makes a point to communicate." If not total funding this year, he's thinking half this year and half next.
A spokeswoman for the mayor says they are exploring the ultimate cost of renovating and staffing the pools.
"It's not an insane amount of money," says Maniscalco. "It's a worthy investment."
And also an interesting moment to watch, this next chapter of Tampa and the politics of pools.
Contact Sue Carlton at firstname.lastname@example.org .