Tampa’s West Side Story

For those of us who have been around for awhile–long enough to recall how Tampa routinely ignored its good fortune in having a river running through it–what’s been happening along the Hillsborough River in downtown is nothing short of a reincarnation. It’s as if we had seen what San Antonio had done with its well-marketed, catalytic little creek and civically said: “They’re doing all this with that? And we have an actual river? Enough is enough.”

Some propitious business cycles, a recession recovery and several pragmatically visionary mayors later, we have the magnetic Riverwalk, the booming, multi-faceted Tampa Heights area and the makeover of the re-debuted Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

The Riverfront Park, the $35-million venue that has morphed from easily ignored, nondescript, green space into a sprawling, eclectic place of note and notice, was the appropriate venue for Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s recent State of the City speech. The site was as symbolic as it was celebrated.

This 23-acre park isn’t just for visitors or millennial hipsters or chamber of commerce reps updating their PowerPoint presentations. Its appeal is to rowers and residents. To those who enjoy courts for tennis as well as basketball. For concert goers, for bocce ball players, for public art devotees, for pet owners who love dog parks. For those who love splash pads–and who doesn’t? In short, for us.

It’s a far cry from those days when the “West Bank” of the Hillsborough River meant, in effect, the “other side of the tracks.” Would-be investors looked askance at the unappealing weedy lots and looked hopefully across the Hillsborough to where the real downtown and the real development potential was.

Now Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park can be a key catalyst in stimulating development on its western side of the river. It’s hardly happenstance that the massive West River urban-renewal-development project just to the north has been jumpstarted this spring. The ultimate master plan and Buckhornian vision are to expand the footprint and synergy of downtown across the river and toward the neighborhoods of West Tampa.

“This park will stand as a testament to the commitment of this city to ensure that the rising tide of prosperity floats all boats,” inclusively noted Mayor Buckhorn at his State of the City speech.

With progress, ironically, also comes a caveat. Heads up for increased river traffic.

What with all that has changed along the downtown course of the Hillsborough, it’s inevitable that it would now be attracting ever more boaters to an ever busier river scene.

“It’s going to require a culture change,” pointed out Heather Erickson, the city’s athletics, aquatics and special facilities manager. Indeed, heightened awareness and a push to educate boaters is now underway.

And who would have thought not many years ago that a river that featured wharves and surface parking lots would now be an aesthetic catalyst for culture change and morph into a place where lots of people would want to be? Hell, who would have thought that Tampa would have an athletics, aquatics and special facilities manager?

Groundless Stand

So an appeals court has denied a challenge to a “stand your ground” ruling in the Curtis Reeves theater shooting case. That means a trial is one step closer. It could also mean that we’re one step closer to formally acknowledging the manifestly obvious–even in NRA-venerating “Flori-duh.” What the hell are you doing bringing your gun to the movies?

Trumpster Diving

* One obvious upshot of the formal opening of the American embassy in JerUSAlem: The peace process is comatose.

* When it comes to North Korea, we should still be willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. Granted, timing is, of course, critically important, and the North Koreans had been gaming the world for a couple of generations until it had nuclear leverage. It’s there now under Kim Jong-un. It also has an open-minded partner in South Korean president Moon Jae-in. And it has, of course, an American president who would love to flaunt that the “Art of the Deal” also applies on the nuclear stage.

But it can’t be discounted that the very nature of Trump–a scary, impulsively unpredictable, threatening bully–has had an impact, however ironic, that could conceivably help. I liken it to a cartoon that was around during the Cold War, nuclear standoff between the U.S and the U.S.S.R. It was a riff on popular teen movies that featured two punks playing “chicken” in their cars. They would head directly at each other until one “chickened out” and turned away to avoid certain fatality. Think early James Dean. Think latter day Kim and Trump.

Well, the cartoon showed one of the drivers getting into his car with a well-noted bottle of booze next to him. It sent an alarmingly existential message to his rival: “I can’t be trusted. I may be drunk. You think I’ll be the one to turn off and avoid a nuclear showdown?”

I never thought that would still be resonating.

Sports Shorts

* OK, the Rays still don’t draw well at the Trop. But at least their crowds are almost always in the five figures. The Miami Marlins, who relocated to cool, new digs a few years ago, struggle to draw 6,000. Good luck, Derek.

* For what it’s worth, HBO and NFL Films picked up a Sports Emmy for “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.” The five episodes were occasionally entertaining, sometimes insightful and–by its very nature–intrusive and invasive for the workplace. That’s the reality with having to grant virtually unfettered access to roaming camera crews looking for story lines and over-the-top personalities. No head coach would have volunteered for this. Dirk Koetter is no exception.

* That was quite the telling quote by former Major League manager Davey Johnson about Tampa native Dwight Gooden, the erstwhile New York Mets pitching phenom whose career was seriously impacted by substance-abuse issues. “He could say no,” said Johnson, “but he didn’t know how to back it up.”

* That detailed report by the Condoleezza Rice-chaired Commission on College Basketball didn’t pull any punches in its criticisms and recommended reforms for college hoops. It notably looked into ratcheting corruption that included bribe and kickback schemes involving coaches, agents and apparel companies. “The goal,” underscored the report, “should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league.”

Addressing the rebottling of this genie of corruption and hypocrisy that has so many self-serving, moving parts is beyond formidable. Only two approaches make sense.

First, pay players in marketplace fashion–starting with recruitment and then on a sliding scale based on performance. It is what it is: “Amateurism” is preposterously passé. Attending class would be optional. Those who actually belong on a college campus could actually work toward a degree on a part-time basis. Those for whom this is a 13th-grade, trade school experience can concentrate on basketball without becoming shamstudent-athletes” who only further undermine the integrity of higher education.

Second, only admit those who actually deserve to be admitted to a real university. It’s not for everybody. We’re talking SATs and high school or community college GPAs. If you can’t make the cut, let the National Basketball Association follow the role model of Major League Baseball with a viable minor league system. That way the league and its franchises can pay to train their own future employees.

* I love it when Tampa lands a Super Bowl or a Women’s Final Four or a Frozen Four or an NHL All Star game. It’s further validation of what we’ve evolved into, plus it’s a great marketing coup. Next Super Bowl is only three years away.

And now we know that the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is seriously pursuing “Wrestlemania,” sometimes dubbed the Super Bowl of pro wrestling, for 2023, ’24 or ’25. Only one downside: It’s pro wrestling.


* “Walking away from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) turns our back on America’s closest allies. … The consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.”–Former President Barack Obama on the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement.

* “If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends.”–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

* “Two thousand years from now, historians may be lecturing on Trump the way they now discuss, say, the challenge to Roman institutions from Caligula.”–Nicholas Kristof, New York Times.

* “The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. … But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. … They don’t speak English. … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”–White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

* “Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days, and our reputation has been damaged. There is no other way to say it: AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”–AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

* “If not for the Trump and Cohen peer circle, white-collar prisons would be sitting empty. And this all happened before Trump and Cohen elevated their moral associations even higher by entangling with Russian oligarchs.”–David Brooks, New York Times.

* “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”–Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in explaining the government’s “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy.

* “I would not allow the CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”–Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA.

* “I believe in the separation of powers, a free press to report without fear or favor, and free to infuriate politicians–including me–as they do.”–Sen. John McCain.

* “There is depth. There is talent. However, there is almost no original reporting. The right has stopped being investigative, stopped being reporters and journalists. It’s occurring precisely at a time when vigorous reporting is most desperately needed.”–Ben Howe, Daily Beast.

* “A tsunami of lies isn’t aimed at getting people to believe what the propagandist is saying. Rather, it’s to induce chronic disbelief, or an indifferent shrug. Who knows what to believe? Who cares? What is truth?”–Charles J. Sykes, Weekly Standard.

* “NRA propaganda hearkens back to an imagined past of white picket fences and financial security. In doing so, it whitewashes the history of guns in American life.”–Jennifer Carlson, Jacobin Magazine.

* “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”–U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in the opinion that struck down a federal law banning sports betting.

* “He has unlimited wealth. I have to be smarter, faster, quicker.”–Sen. Bill Nelson, referring to Rick Scott’s financial wherewithal.

* “Part of what I tried to do was reassure them that Tampa is interested in that relationship. That we don’t build walls; we build bridges. And that we are there for the long run. So block out the white noise, the tweets, because that doesn’t reflect America’s relationship with Mexico and certainly not Tampa Bay’s relationship with Mexico.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was part of the recent Global Tampa Bay trade mission to Mexico.

* “Fortune 500 company relocations are really rare. The fact that they chose Hillsborough County is just another testament to the momentum that the city and the county is experiencing right now.”–Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. president and CEO Craig Richard, on the announcement that Minnesota-based Mosaic Co. will be moving its headquarters to Hillsborough County.

* “Green spaces and public parks are the great equalizers. You don’t have to buy a ticket. You just come with your family and create memories.”–Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

* “We have to start asking questions that maybe we have never asked ourselves before. This really implies  that the whole system has to change. The whole structure in our organization has to change.”–Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins, in unveiling a plan to address the 49 district schools with a history of low grades and neglect.

* We don’t need to double down on the bad decisions made in the 1960s to put asphalt through urban cores and destroy those communities.”–Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp.

* “San Francisco is a very, very cool place, but oftentimes it’s hard to live there because of the sheer size of it and the cost.”–Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. President J.P. DuBuque, on the rationale behind pitching St. Pete in California. It was the EDC’s first ever business-recruiting trip.

* “I think (the Rays) have to move to Tampa. If you’re staying in the area, it has to move somewhere over there.”–Evan Longoria.

Of MAGA And McCain

* “Make America Great Again” is more than a strategically self-serving, populist meme. It’s also a legitimate challenge.

Here’s a sobering revelation: The International Monetary Fund, not to be confused with a “fake news” partisan, projects that the United States will account for only 13.7 percent of global economic output by 2023. That’s not far away: either Donald Trump’s penultimate lame-duck year or the third year of the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Administration. For comparison, the U.S. accounted for approximately 50 percent of global output at the end of World War II. By 1985, that figure was 22.5 percent. Today it’s 15 percent.

Arguably, a retreat from global commitments, including base-pandering protectionism and a culture of international unreliability, won’t help. At all.

* Alas, John McCain’s days are sadly numbered as the 81-year-old senator struggles against brain cancer and the aggressive treatment it necessitates. We know his family–with his inimitable input–is already making funeral-service plans for Washington’s National Cathedral. To wit: George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been invited to give eulogies. Donald Trump did not make the cut. Mike Pence will represent the White House.

Bush and Obama, with whom McCain had a few high-profile disagreements, symbolize respect and reconciliation. Trump embodies everything McCain distains about polarizing political partisanship and international disloyalty.

* Speaking of McCain, it’s too bad his legacy of reconciliation and aisle-crossing hasn’t gone unfettered. That legacy, unfortunately, also includes the political sell-out that put Sarah Palin on his 2008 presidential ticket. It wasn’t just an expedient, feminist-insulting, long-shot gambit to win the presidency in a given year. It also enabled the Trump presidency. It proved what can happen when you normalize the unconscionably unprepared and vain  as viable enough to be on a presidential ticket. Candidate Palin presaged President Trump.

Sorry about that, senator, but I’m sorrier for America.

* Between now and the summit hook-up between Trump and Kim Jong Un, there will be no lack of media speculation about what Kim, in particular, really has in mind. Is this really the Korean Peninsula game-changer it appears to be? Will that armistice morph into a peace treaty?

Frankly, it’s encouraging that Kim cares so much about symbolism and optics as we saw with his Olympic overtures and historic handshake and border two-step with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. And this just in: North Korea has readjusted its time zone to match South Korea’s and dismantled those gigantic loudspeakers that used to spew propaganda across the DMZ.

The signs are more than manifest that this is now, and the Cold War was then. But for media that speculates and overanalyzes for a living, there’s still the ultimate sign that Kim is serious about wanting back into the civilized world. If he shows up for his Trump summit looking like he’s worked in a salad, sports a CEO haircut and no longer dresses in Mao pajamas, he’ll signal that he’s really ready for the world stage with a message that will resonate credibility,

* Many in America’s media, political parties and military establishment have been looking askance at the rumored possibility that Kim might part with his nukes if the U.S. agrees to sign that peace treaty and pledges not to attack the North. Some historical perspective: Less than a decade after the 1953 Korean armistice, the U.S. was faced with an existential showdown with the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles in Cuba. A key component for defusing the global threat was President John F. Kennedy’s pledge not to invade Cuba. Sure, it was a concession but to common sense and common cause. Nobody wanted Armageddon.

Such a pledge should still be on the table. It speaks incongruous volumes that we would need to even debate–or defend it.

* It’s hard to take a pathological liar at his word, but let’s cut Trump some non-witch-hunting, sincerity slack when he said during the campaign that “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Let’s assume he meant it. Let’s then assume, Rudy Giuliani equivocations notwithstanding, that Trump will not plead the Fifth against self-incrimination in the Russia investigation, because, truth be told, he has nothing to hide.

* Two recent, instant-classic headlines:

>MSNBC’s Hardball: “The Trump & Rudy Show.”

>”Vanity Fair” magazine: “Trump Assures Reporters He’ll Make Giuliani a Better Liar.”

* These are indeed, unprecedented, stormy political times. Imagine, we live in an era where a porn actress can credibly sue for defamation.

Proposal’s Upshot

It was encouraging that the Hillsborough County Commission exercised discretion and adopted a gun-control measure that will extend the waiting period for the purchase of a firearm in the county from three to five days. The usual suspects, from Second Amendment activists to gun-store owners, protested. But to no avail. The Republican-dominated commission passed the proposal, 5-2. The media weighed in with props for the commission for doing the right thing.

Of course, it was the right thing to do. But what it says–even in these post-Parkland, post-Pulse times–is that no more than incremental progress can be expected until there’s more pressure after the next slaughter. How low is this bar of public-safety responsibility for public officials? And keep in mind that Commissioners Ken Hagan and Stacy White still couldn’t belly up to the low-caliber bar of responsible gun control. We’re not there yet. Obviously.

Ticket Hustle

What to make of the proposed Florida gubernatorial ticket of two former U.S. representatives, Democrat Patrick Murphy and Republican David Jolly? One obvious takeaway is that the current crop of Democratic candidates is less than impressive. In an election year that will be more blue than red, even an unprecedented, reddish-blue version could have a “bipartisan” shot in the ultimate swing state.

Gator Grouse

Graduation day at a major university is a day, if there ever was one, for celebration. A ceremonial forum for exuberance. For a journey successfully concluded and momentum jumpstarted for the next life stage. And everybody has a back story, some more cathartic and empowering than others.

And yet, there was the University of Florida–as embarrassingly seen on prime time network TV and across social media–with a designated “usher” pushing, grabbing and bear-hugging newly-minted grads as they walked–or “strolled”–across the stage. There was concern, apparently, that some graduates were just too exuberantly self aware. A number of black students felt targeted by the de facto bouncer.

This was as shameful as it was stupid. UF, which will now change its practice of “ushering” graduating students, should welcome celebrations, including animated ones, of those who have just earned a degree from a prestigious university.

UF President Ken Fuchs has apologized, and the university will presumably usher in graduation- ceremony changes appropriate for those proudly celebrating a milestone achievement.

Sports Shorts

* For those of us following the NBC coverage of the Lightning-Bruins series, it was quite apparent that network analyst Jeremy Roenick and Bolts commentator Bobby Taylor saw a lot of the action from different perspectives. “The Chief” has been with Tampa Bay for decades; it shows. Roenick is a native of Boston; it showed.

* I watched as the Rays Mallex Smith, better known for his speed than his base-running savvy, ran himself into a big out last Sunday with his embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt at stealing home against Toronto. The Rays batter, C.J. Kron, looked, well, incredulous.

It reminded me of one of my worst memories growing up as a Philadelphia Phillies fan–as well as one of the all-time sports quotes that never got national notoriety. The setting: a late September game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in Philly in 1964. The Phillies had a 6 1/2 game National League lead with 12 games to play. The World Series loomed. The Phillies, however, would lose 10 in a row, and the St. Louis Cardinals would win the pennant. The first of those 10 defeats was a 1-0 loss to the Reds.

It came when Cincinnati journeyman Chico Ruiz stole home. The batter was Frank Robinson. THE Frank Robinson. Ruiz–obviously–did it on his own. After the game, Reds manager Dick Sisler was asked about Ruiz’s daring move with a future Hall of Famer at the plate. “Suppose he had been out?” asked a reporter. “He’d still be running,” replied Sisler. Still a classic.