Mayor’s East Tampa Pledge Counts The Most

Here’s some advice for those black civic leaders who are already questioning Mayor Pam Iorio’s commitment to diversity. Back off.

For openers, don’t rush to judgment. It makes you look more contentious than assertive. A number of appointments have yet to be made. Of the 10 top managers who will report directly to Iorio, she has named but four, one of whom — City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles — is black.

More to the point, your diversity agenda is not more important than the mayor’s charge to find the best personnel possible. Show the sort of good faith you’re demanding from her — even if you still pine for Frank Sanchez or Bob Buckhorn as your mayor.

Moreover, don’t misread the reassignment of Curtis Lane from minority liaison in the mayor’s office to head of city code enforcement. As a former deputy police chief, Lane should mean business-not-as-usual for chronic code violators. It also means window dressing is out in city hall.

Second, and more importantly, look at the mayor’s commitment to East Tampa and see how you can help make it happen. Other than interim City Attorney Fred Karl, no appointment is more symbolically important than that of Ed Johnson, a black banker. Johnson is the city’s director of East Tampa Development and Citywide Lending Programs. It’s a newly created position. Iorio has, in effect, hitched her own political reputation to transforming a poverty-and-crime-infested area into a truly more “livable” part of the city.

Put it this way. If East Tampa becomes nothing more than token islands of Tampa Housing Authority innovation amid a sea of druggies, thugs and dilapidated commercial properties, improved diversity at City Hall will be a hollow celebration.

Black activists need only look across the bay to see the challenges of St. Petersburg’s Midtown for guidance, if not pragmatic inspiration. A recent five-day spree of drive-by shootings in the mostly black and poor section of that city is a graphic reminder that pouring public money into an area is no guarantee that private investors will follow. What they may do is follow each other out of town.

Midtown is Exhibit A for a call to community arms and positive neighborhood leadership. It means saying no to all that is culturally dysfunctional and all that smacks of the victimization syndrome. It means working WITH law enforcement and being thankful that somebody is actually willing to police such high crime areas that are also menacing to officers.

Helping out in East Tampa means heavy lifting. It’s not nearly as easy as calling for diversity at city hall.

But Ed Johnson and Pam Iorio can’t revitalize the area themselves. And it will take more than the creative use of tax increment financing and the creation of community redevelopment areas. City, state and federal purse strings are all drawn tautly.

The key is the jobs-creating private sector. The best intentioned developers are not investing out of altruism. They need to make a profit. They don’t have to choose high-risk communities with scary crime rates, open drug dealing and aging, ill-kept properties.

Absent a community-wide commitment to a safe place to do business, they won’t.

And that’s the mayor’s daunting challenge. And she needs serious, roll-up-the-sleeves, take-no-prisoners activist help to make East Tampa happen.

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