Trolley Tracks and Tacks

The much ballyhooed, well-received trolley debut is now history, but still ahead are ambitious scenarios for future phases tying in downtown and Hyde Park. Meanwhile, don’t be surprised when plans for the Franklin Street extension are accelerated if Tampa lands the GOP convention.

And this sobering note. Obviously the TECOline Streetcar System is a uniquely attractive, nostalgia-steeped, economic development tool and tourist-visitor attraction. But isn’t it also a starter-set for light rail? And doesn’t it remain quite the parochial commentary on this area that such a mass transit reality still can’t be uttered publicly for fear of political repercussions?

One Man, One (Informed) Vote

With apologies to supervisors of elections and civics teachers everywhere, it is blasphemously suggested here that not everybody vote. Not next week. Not, quite conceivably, ever.

But hear out this heresy.

America’s love affair with democracy has always had its incongruous side. Our Declaration of Independence accommodated both the essence of equality and the nature of slavery. The franchise to vote had quirky exceptions regarding land ownership, race and gender. Sometimes an election isn’t won by the candidate with the most votes.

Here, then, is but one more aberration

“The Pillage People”

In the aftermath of that disheartening debacle against the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s harder to muster the creativity to answer the community call for an appropriate moniker for the Bucs’ defense. Having said that, “The Pillage People” works for me.

Alas, “The Pirates of Penzance” also works for the offense. First runner-up: “The Maginot Line.”

A Fit Candidate For Mayor

Fitness author Don Ardel seems less a candidate for mayor than that of personal trainer for the city. So be it. He’s an engaging, 64-year-old blithe spirit among more traditional candidates — and would certainly trim fat wherever he found it.

But while his campaign may be running in place, Ardel continues to excel in his most familiar arena: road racing. Earlier this month he won a silver medal in the 60-64 division of the (bike and run) World Duathlon Championships in suburban Atlanta.

The “Infidel” Tragedy That Played Moscow

As bloody and harrowing as the hostage-taking in that Moscow theater was, the most chilling aspects were the Chechen threats made in pre-assault videotapes. They were delivered — disturbingly enough — to the Moscow bureau of al-Jazeera, the Muslim-friendly, Qatar-based news channel that often serves as an al-Qaida conduit.

First some background. Since it was conquered by czarist armies in 1859, Chechnya has smoldered under Russian rule. Dictator Josef Stalin deported many to their deaths during World War II. After a war in the mid 1990s, the breakaway republic in southern Russia gained de facto independence. Three years ago Russian troops re-entered in response, Russian leaders said, to rebel raids and bombings.

It’s your basic, intractable, sovereignty-and-freedom dilemma that has festered across the generations and cost countless lives. It is further fueled by religious affiliation. The population, approximately 1.2 million, is mostly Muslim.

For those who still harbor hopes that this increasingly polarized, terrorist-traipsing world is not a battle of civilizations and that it’s “not about Islam,” the Chechen videotape is required reviewing.

On one tape, a rebel acknowledged that the 50 or so Chechen hostage-takers, approximately half of whom were women, were on a “martyrdom operation.” To underscore their leverage, as well as a perverse sense of presumption, he said, “I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living.”

On the other tape, five veiled women stood before a banner that proclaimed “God is Great” in Arabic. For the sake of argument, agreed. In fact, keen. But their point being? Could it be that nobody knows intractable sovereignty issues like Allah — especially after a century and a half to deliberate?

“We have chosen this path, the path of struggling for the freedom of the Chechen,” said one of the women. She then alarmingly added: “It makes no difference for us where we will die. We have chosen to die here, in Moscow, and we will take the lives of hundreds of the infidels with us.”

You knew it was coming.

This conflict — borne of subjugation and thwarted self-determination since the middle of the 19th century — has been reduced to its 21st century, sectarian essence. This is no run-of-the-mill battle of ideological, dictatorial oppressors against the generically oppressed. It’s infidels vs. true believers.

Once you’ve assigned the “infidel” label, an assignation too easily accommodated by Islam, it’s no quantum leap to dehumanize the other side. Hitler, of course, was a foremost exponent, but pathologic power was his only religion.

Islam, we are told, is a religion of peace.

Islam, we are not told, is too easily perverted and too susceptible to dividing the world into “believers” and “infidels.”

Once someone — say, a theatergoer, a thespian, an airplane passenger, a bus rider, a restaurant patron, an office worker, a wedding-reception guest, a child — has been designated an “infidel,” that person is fair game for the religious fanatic. Especially a zealot who has seethed too long in a culture more intent on revenging the Crusades than competing with the West.

The historic, geographic and geopolitical trappings may be different — as different as New York, Jerusalem, Bali and Moscow — but make no mistake. This is about Islam.

You better believe it.

Especially if you’re an “infidel.”

Gubernatorial Debate Winner: Status Quo

It was hardly high drama. Then again, it wasn’t like watching Barry Bonds intentionally walked. Certainly C-SPANable.

The last of the three gubernatorial debates probably didn’t change anything. People watch to validate what they already believe and, therefore, see and hear what they want to see and hear. Those who haven’t made up their minds likely made up their minds not to watch.

Anyway, no knockouts, no headline-grabbing gaffes. Just a lot of “he said-I said-who says?” interspersed with “yes, you are’s” and “no, I’m not’s” and flavored with “did not, did too’s.” Here a “disingenuous,” there a “you should be ashamed.”

It was reaffirmed from the two previous debates that Florida is either doing well — or not so good. It was further reiterated that the class size-capping Amendment 9 would either brutalize the state budget or save our educational bacon.

On balance, Jeb Bush succeeded in looking more informed than arrogant. McBride, more gubernatorial than goober.

But Tim Russert was a major upgrade, although he wasn’t a candidate.

Castor Playing Ethics Card Against Hart

Kathy Castor is an attractive candidate.

She looks good on paper and pretty in person. Smiling disarmingly as she decries “property taxpayers subsidizing urban sprawl development,” she actually seems to enjoy public policy.

She’s affable, informed and typically positive on the stump. Her best credential — a 3-year, assistant general counsel stint at the Florida Department of Community Affairs — dovetails nicely with Hillsborough County’s thorniest issue: assuring smart growth isn’t some oxymoronic delusion.

And then there’s that Castor name. Without which, some contend, she might have been a winsome loser in the District 1 county commission primary against solid opponents with non-household handles such as Osiason and Dingfelder.

But that was then and this is Chris Hart III.

The 58-year-old Hart is formidable. He is business-issues savvy and a true believer in raising the county’s profile. Hart also has the sort of family name recognition that comes from more than a decade of public service. Moreover, his son is a two-term state representative. He has contacts in Washington, even if inflated.

Although Hart jumped into the race at the last minute, he initially raised more money than Castor immediately following the Sept. 10 primary. He has served on the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission and been elected and re-elected to (a countywide seat on) the county commission.

Around here, however, that’s not just hands-on experience. It’s also guilt by association. The commission, dysfunctional on a good day, is collectively and routinely disparaged.

Hart acknowledges the double-edged sword of incumbency.

“Each of us hopes we’re not the one,” he says. “It’s like a family where someone got up on the wrong side of the bed. But the criticism is not totally deserving. We can get too wrapped up in personalities. I think we need to ask what got done at the end of the day. On health and transportation, we have moved forward.”

While the 36-year-old Castor can wax wonkish on water, transportation, indigent health care and older neighborhood re-investment, her best chance is to go right after Hart’s incumbency. Her ethics reform package takes dead, if decorous, aim.

The parameters of a Hillsborough County Ethics Commission would include all the municipalities and could address, she says, everything from nepotism in county government to the sort of legal/ethical dilemma that plagued Mayor Dick Greco over the Steve LaBrake affair.

More pertinent to the election, however, are proposals to strengthen disclosure rules for lobbyists, “clarify” term limits and make commissioners more accountable for their travel and expenditure reports. The latter two provisions are thinly veiled Hart attacks.

In a recent press release, Castor vowed: “When elected, I will work to add a provision to the (County Home Rule) Charter limiting commissioners to two terms — including a jump from district to district. Period. This was the intent of the voters in the first place.” An intent, she more than implies, disregarded and disrespected by Hart who is completing his second term representing District 5 countywide. He hopscotched into the District 1 competition on the last day of qualifying — after bowing out of the mayor’s race.

Then there’s Hart’s reputation for junketeering.

Castor also wants commissioners to publish travel-related expenses in the Commission’s official agenda. Hart’s county travels, notes Castor, have included top-dollar stays in Mexico, Las Vegas, Hawaii and Washington and “exceed all other commissioners combined.”

To Hart, the criticism is like a sucker punch in a velvet glove.

“I followed the end of her (Senate District 13) race with Victor Crist (in 2000) and was disappointed,” says Hart. “It turned negative. Now I’m beginning to wonder.

“She’s looking for issues upon which to mount a campaign,” adds Hart. “There’s already a state ethics commission. Otherwise, her agenda mirrors mine.”

Frankly, some insiders have questioned why Castor hasn’t been more aggressive in going after Hart’s relatively undistinguished record. But Castor sees a localized ethics commission — with reasonable turnaround-time accountability and teeth — as a necessary means to a pragmatic end.

“Before we accomplish anything of substance,” stresses Castor, “we must restore trust. The public has lost trust in the county commission. This could help build confidence. The starting point is a new board in November.”

Dingfelder Retools For Another Campaign

John Dingfelder, first runner-up to Kathy Castor in the District 1 County Commission Democratic primary, is now tossing his hat — and maybe a bunch of retooled campaign signs — into the City Council ring. Democratic Party strategist Clay Phillips, who has been campaigning for several months, is the early frontrunner in the race to represent South Tampa.

Dingfelder says a city council run was never a fallback plan during his county commission race. He says it never crossed his mind “professionally or politically.”

He attributes a good primary showing, a number of encouraging phone calls, confirmation that he did well in South Tampa precincts and “a desire to continue public service in this (elective) capacity” for the necessary motivation.

Dingfelder says that protection of neighborhoods, stormwater needs, fiscal responsibility and governmental integrity will loom large on his campaign agenda.

“We’re going to pick up where we left off,” he says. “I hope people will see it as a continuation of four months of campaigning. Maybe we’ll just cover over county commission and put in city council on our old signs.”

And, yes, look for his mom to be out and about again gathering petition signatures.

Mayoral Candidates Not Polls Apart on Survey

Except for petty sniping about fund-raising, jibes over some amateur sleuthing and chagrin from a pollster gaffe, the mayor’s race stayed off the political radar during the latter, climatic stages of the primary and on into the general election. But that profile has heightened in the wake of a detailed poll published by the St. Petersburg Times .

The poll also yielded an interesting result: the three leading candidates — a frontrunner, an old timer and a newcomer — couldn’t be happier with the findings.

The Times’ telephone poll, conducted by Communications Center Inc. of Lakeland, surveyed Tampa residents familiar with the race. The result: 25 percent backed City Councilman Bob Buckhorn, a familiar name and early frontrunner; 21 percent named Charlie Miranda, the folksy, 60-something City Council chairman; and 19 percent supported Frank Sanchez, the return-of-the-native, first-time candidate for elective office. For all intents — given the 5 percent margin of error — it’s a toss-up right now.

“It reflects what we’ve been seeing,” says Buckhorn. “My own polling tells me that the issues people care about are in line with what my campaign is talking about: neighborhoods, safety, ethics in government — the fundamental things that affect the quality of people’s lives. This is about who knows the potholes, the cracks in the sidewalk, the dope dealers. When we hire a mayor, we want someone to fix problems and run the city

Bandstand or Fruitstand: Still A Special Moment

For many Americans Dick Clark is the guy who rocks in the New Year and obsesses over “bloopers.” For many others, he is the former host of Los Angeles-based “American Bandstand,” a Zelig-like survivor adapting to whatever music and fashion the culture can churn out. Still others see a septuagenarian teenager affably pitching “oldies” music.

And then there are those — speaking of “oldies” — for whom Dick Clark will always be a human time capsule. Forever encased with Clearasil, 45-rpm records, letter sweaters, transistor radios and slide rules.

Especially if you grew up in Philly, the birthplace of Bandstand (which relocated to L.A. in 1964). Especially if you actually appeared on Bandstand. And actually danced.

It all came flashing back two Sundays ago when I looked in on “American Dreams,” NBC’s new family drama set in Philadelphia in 1963. The main character, played convincingly and winsomely by Tampa actress Brittany Snow, is a 15 year old who becomes a “regular” on “American Bandstand.”

So there I was, barely an hour removed from watching the Bucs-Bengals blowout, mentally transported back to a cramped studio of Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate, WFIL. I was there with a couple of buddies. We were practically high school freshmen (eighth graders at St. Timothy’s Catholic School) and had one of those teacher-conference days off. We put on dress clothes, caught a bus and took the cross-town elevated train from Northeast to West Philly.

We lined up outside the studio, a nondescript building in a hardscrabble neighborhood, and hoped to look 14 — and make the cut. The regulars didn’t have to suffer such an indignity; they were ushered right in.

We all made it in and were directed to the bleacher seats. Along the way, there were hand-written signs cautioning the uninitiated: proper dress required; ID might be checked; gum-chewing, loud talking and camera hogging prohibited.

Some associate producer sort came out to reinforce the signage for the benefit of rookies and stressed the proper response to flashing applause signs. The regulars talked among themselves.

This guy’s message was clear: “Millions of kids across the country are tuning in — but not to watch you. They want to see Justine Carelli, Bob Clayton, Pat Moliteri, Carmen Jimenez, Kenny Rossi and Arlene Sullivan. If you must dance, stay with the flow and don’t look, let alone wave, at the camera. Try to look cool, even though you aren’t. Central Casting didn’t send you to us, but we still let you in; don’t make us throw you out. And welcome.”

I can still see Dick Clark as a Brillcremed 30-something standing, Oz-like, on a fruit crate behind that iconic Bandstand dais. For some reason I didn’t fathom someone that famous that short.

He seemed polite off camera and smooth on air. Introducing Bobby Freeman, lipsinging “Betty Lou’s Got A New Pair Of Shoes.” Giving the intro for a Clearasil commercial. Announcing a “Ladies’ Choice”: “A Million To One” by Little Jimmy Charles. Segueing into the “rate-a-record” segment where the litmus test of beat and dance-ability awaited new releases. Teasing Kenny and Arlene about their fan mail. Hyping the upcoming dance contest — the last vestiges of jitterbugging — to Chuck Berry’s “Rock ‘n Roll Music.”

For all of our usual hormonal bravado, truth be told, we just sat there — mesmerized by Justine and Arlene and all that you couldn’t see on a 12-inch Philco. How come nobody tripped on all those wires and cables? Didn’t those sets look cheesy in person? Wouldn’t you like to muss up Dick Clark’s hair? How come no one ever started a fight? Happens all the time at dances. Imagine that on live TV! Wow!

Then came the day’s second — and last — “Ladies’ Choice.” An assertive tap on the shoulder.

Who me? The almost ninth-grader with the impressive pompadour who was living a lie? The kid who would be clapping erasers tomorrow for Sister Charles Mary?

But, yo. Of course, me. Why wouldn’t she — and maybe Justine and Arlene as well — think I was quite the catch? Validation at almost 14.

She did most of the talking. She was from out of state and didn’t want to return to wherever that was without having at least danced once on Bandstand. But she was too nervous and plain looking, she felt, to ask a regular. But I looked “nice,” she said, which I interpreted as looking comparably nervous and plain-looking. That dance, to the strains of Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In The Game,” lasted, it seemed, about an hour. We were each other’s rite-of-passage props. And I had to go to the bathroom.

Once in high school, however, we learned the truth about Bandstand. Pat Moliteri penned a piece in “Teen Magazine” that described how the “regulars” were despised by classmates for being “stuck up.” She said the show was known as “Fruit Stand.”

Soon after, we learned that the really cool DJs were on the radio, where they played Little Caesar and the Romans (“Those Oldies But Goodies”) and the Tuneweavers (“Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby”) — and never Pat Boone or Brenda Lee. Unlike Dick Clark, they could acknowledge that there was such a thing as “make-out” music and that a great place to hear continuous loops of doo-wop was down by the Delaware River, watching the “submarine races.”

Now I think back. There will always be that Bandstand moment. And Tommy Edwards was right. “Many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the game.”