In 2018, the Tampa Bay area bore witness to a hockey season cut too short, environmental calamity, a historic midterm election, a presidential visit, a recount and an ultimately futile search for a new baseball stadium.
What was old was new again: We saw a new stand your ground case, a new Russian interference scare and a newly resilient Rays team make national headlines this year.
And for one glorious month, #FitzMagic was everywhere — and then it was nowhere.
It would be impossible to try to sum up 2018 with mere words, but my boss told me to do so anyway.
Others, though, said it so much better.
Here are 18 memorable quotes to remember 2018 by
1. “People need to keep an open mind to it as the reality is that if someone else in that school had a gun it could have saved kids’ lives.” —Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Parkland.
Santa Fe. Thousand Oaks. Pittsburgh. Annapolis. The conversation about how to thwart mass shootings will remain a fixture of American political discourse for years to come. With this November statement, Gualtieri came out in support of a controversial measure to combat school shootings: arming teachers.
2. “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis [sic] when they happen.” —Benjamin Kelly, ex-legislative aide
This was just a sample of the pernicious and flat-out false rumors about the Parkland student-activists that earned the ignominious distinction of PolitiFact’s 2018 Lie of the Year. And it was emailed, unprompted, to a Tampa Bay Times reporter. Kelly, a longtime local political operative who served as an aide to state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, was fired hours after sending the email.
3. “This exact day a year ago, I was not playing a sold-out stadium in Tampa. I was in a courtroom in Denver, Colorado. And honestly, I was there for a sexual assault case.” —Pop superstar Taylor Swift, on stage at Raymond James Stadium
It may have been the Tampa Bay area’s most poignant brush with the #MeToo movement. On Aug. 14, Swift opened up to the crowd of about 50,000 about her own assault on the anniversary of her civil court victory over the Denver DJ who groped her in 2013. “I guess I just think about all the people that weren’t believed, and the people who haven’t been believed, or the people who are afraid to speak up because they’re afraid they won’t be believed,” she said. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry to anyone who ever wasn’t believed. Because I don’t know what turn my life would have taken if people didn’t believe me when I said that something had happened to me.”
4. “What’s NEW????? Show tomorrow!!!!” —Lesser pop star Chris Brown, the morning after his arrest on a Hillsborough warrant
Brown, who has been repeatedly accused of violence against women, was arrested as he exited the stage in West Palm Beach the night before his Tampa show in July. He performed the next day anyway.
5. “A prosecutor’s pursuit of justice should be tempered by mercy. But some crimes are so unconscionable, so hard to fathom, that we must leave mercy to a higher power and instead focus on achieving justice for the victims and their families.” —Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, on seeking the death penalty for Howell Donaldson, who has been accused in the Seminole Heights killings
Donaldson is charged with slaying four people — Benjamin Mitchell, 22; Monica Hoffa, 32; Anthony Naiboa, 20; and Ronald Felton, 60 — in a terrifying series of ambush attacks that shook Seminole Heights in 2017. Warren’s January decision to seek the death penalty was a dramatic development in what will be a closely watched trial.
6. “This may be — in fact it probably is — the greatest movement in the history of America.” —President Donald Trump, at the Florida State Fairgrounds
Trump, never one to understate things, offered this opinion at his July rally in Tampa to about 10,000 adoring supporters as he campaigned for Florida’s next governor, Ron DeSantis.
7. “It would be, in many ways, disadvantageous to Berkeley to chime in. But morality transcends respectability, and today children are removed from the protection of their parents to instead be kept in cages.” —An open letter to Berkeley Preparatory School headmaster Joseph Seivold rebuking alumna and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
The Trump administration’s decision to separate children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border was one of the biggest news stories of the year. And it had a major local tie. On June 17, Nielsen, who oversaw the federal department doing the separating, mendaciously denied the policy’s existence. Later that week, fellow graduates of her high school, Tampa’s Berkeley Prep, wrote an open letter condemning Nielsen.
8. “We just have to stay humble.” —Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, during the all-too-brief peak of #FitzMagic
When he delivered these wise words, Fitzpatrick was wearing a half-zipped-up silk jacket, sunglasses with gold rims and about his body weight in diamonds. His Bucs had just defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles 27-21 in Week 2 of the NFL season, and #FitzMagic had become a national sensation. The veteran journeyman had become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns in each of his first two games to start the season, leading the Bucs to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2010. Like his outfit, it wouldn’t last. “I got like two more (questions), because D-Jax needs his stuff,” Fitzpatrick said of receiver DeSean Jackson.
9. “When you know the Stanley Cup final is on the other side of this game and you can’t get past it, it stings a little harder.” —Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman
Up 3-2 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference final, the Lightning went on to score zero goals in six periods. The Capitals would go on to win the Stanley Cup that the Lightning so covet. So close to glory, yet so far.
10. “The Rays finished the season with 90 wins — their best showing in five years — and as 2018’s most consequential baseball team.” —Sports Illustrated
Not many people saw this remarkable small-market achievement in person, but it’s quite possible that the Tampa Bay Rays revolutionized baseball in 2018 by having relief pitchers start games.
11. “It’s not time to be relieved, it’s time to make sure they stay here for a long time.” —St. Petersburg City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes, after the Rays announced they would stop looking for a new stadium location in Hillsborough County, pulling the plug on a proposed Ybor City site
The Rays’ stadium saga continued unabated in 2018.
12. “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida.” —Gov. Rick Scott
With recounts underway in three statewide races, the governor accused South Florida election officials — without evidence — of potentially allowing “rampant fraud.” Scott ended up beating Bill Nelson, his Democratic opponent in the U.S. Senate race, anyway. Fellow Republican DeSantis followed suit, defeating Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor’s race. And state law enforcement found no evidence of rampant fraud.
13. “Let me make it more clear. Jesus condemned sodomy!!!!” —Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge candidate Donald McBath
When a Times reporter asked McBath, a Wesley Chapel lawyer running for judge, about Islamophobic and homophobic tweets he penned in 2017, he texted this response. He lost his race to Doneene Loar.
14. “They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.” —U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, speaking in Tampa, on Russian attempts to hack the U.S. election system
Nelson’s August comments drew a firestorm of criticism from state officials, including his election foe, Rick Scott. More than a week later, NBC news wrote a story, citing three anonymous sources, that purported to vindicate Nelson’s claim. But no official ever did so on the record.
15. “My refrigerator hit me ... Queen-sized bed tried to run me over.” —Charles Smith, owner of the Gulf View Motel in Mexico Beach
Hurricane Michael was one of the most important Florida stories of the year. It could take years for Panhandle communities to fully rebuild from the devastating Category 4 storm that struck in October.
16. “Everyone was telling me it’s the best hospital — it’s the best place you can be.” —Amara Le, the mother of a child who had a surgical needle left in her heart by surgeons at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg
Times reporters uncovered that and many other problems with the All Children’s Heart Institute, which resulted in the resignation of several high-ranking hospital officials, including the CEO.
17. “Lock him up, or give up your badge.” Al Sharpton, sending a message to Gualtieri over the Clearwater stand your ground shooting
The MSNBC host criticized the Pinellas County sheriff for his handling of the July death of Markeis McGlockton. Sharpton came to Clearwater in August to urge officials to charge McGlockton’s killer, Michael Drejka. Gualtieri declined to do so, citing Florida’s stand your ground law. Weeks after McGlockton’s death, prosecutors decided to charge Drejka with manslaughter.
18. “He came in with pants on but he rode off on the bike without pants. I’m not sure if he took his pants with him but we didn’t find them. We still don’t know where his pants are.” Chad Pearson, a server at the Chattaway restaurant
Never forget the pantsless bandit who broke into the St. Petersburg restaurant, stripped naked, cooked himself some ramen and then played the bongos. And never forget that we live in Florida, the greatest state in the union.