McBride morphing into formidable candidate

For a non-politician running for governor, Tampa’s Bill McBride is getting the hang of it.

He’s barnstorming, fund-raising and speaking out like the major, credible candidate he’s morphing into. He’s also taking the high road vis-a-vis his primary opponents, especially Janet Reno, the high-profile, front-running former U.S. attorney general, who happens to be a good friend. He saves his salvos for the governor. But he’s also careful to attack Jeb Bush, the ideologue, not the person.

The husky, well-connected, 56-year-old McBride is acting very much like the Democratic Party’s best chance in a general election against a powerful, incumbent governor whose brother is president of a United States at war. He will have to win, however, a primary with no run-off against seasoned politicians — most notably Reno.

Ideologically, the former managing partner for the mega-sized Holland & Knight law firm will not be outflanked on the left. He could balance — or maybe offset — a liberal agenda with serious business bona fides, a Bronze-Starred Vietnam Marine record and tons of civic service. Proximity to the critical I-4 corridor and potential appeal to a chunk of the military vote in North Florida underscore his geo-political possibilities.

This is the hybrid candidacy he brings. While his core beliefs in an activist government and inclusion — he’s a self-described “proud and unapologetic Democrat ” — certainly haven’t changed, the packaging has been refined.

As was evident recently at Tampa’s Tiger Bay Club luncheon, McBride seems more at ease in front of a political crowd. He’ll never be (state Senator) Daryl Jones, but he’s a better Bill McBride.

The light, sometimes self-deprecating, side was there. As was the down-home, Leesburg delivery that tells folks that Reno and her no-frills style won’t win the populist vote by default. Homage to his wife, ex-banker Alex Sink, wasn’t missed. A “9-11” reference took the patriotically pragmatic form of: “If they could find a uniform big enough, I’d go and get bin Laden myself. I’m trained for it.” Jesse Ventura could have uttered that one.

He set up his boilerplate special by citing recent studies by the St. Petersburg Times and one from the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation that showed Florida losing ground in education and income. He said Florida’s report card would warrant a “D or an F” and that Jeb Bush should be given “a voucher to go back to the private sector.” This is applause-line, mantra material that McBride is increasingly at ease with. It went over well.

Some other McBride offerings, a number of which will become campaign-trail staples:

Can Sanchez go home again — as a mayoral candidate?

Only for politicians and death-row inmates would a year and a half from now seem soon. We are almost that far removed from Tampa’s 2003 mayoral election, and already there are at least eight declared or well-publicized, potential candidates to replace Dick Greco. Not including Ed Turanchik.

It does, however, include maybe the most intriguing putative candidate: Francisco Sanchez.

He doesn’t, however, have the name recognition of other would-be mayors. He doesn’t have a long, continuous residence — and political presence — in the city. And he doesn’t have the experience of having previously held — or even run for — public office.

“To move from not being a public-office holder to mayor is a pretty dramatic move,” points out John Belohlavek, political consultant and USF history professor. “But his roots are deep, and he’s worked in politics enough. Frank understands how the game is played, and what it takes to be an effective leader.”

What the 42-year-old Ybor City native has besides roots are a resume, looks, a quiet charisma and a coterie of cronies and associates who think he would be the perfect successor to Greco. It’s heavily speculated that Greco would agree.

“I’m very serious about running for mayor,” says Sanchez, who expects to make a formal announcement early in ’02. “I look at the candidates, and they’re all good and honorable people. But I have a desire to be of service and a unique set of experiences and skills.”

Indeed.

Start with his education. Your basic George Washington Junior High-Hillsborough High- Harvard University connection. At Harvard, he earned a master’s degree in public administration. Previously, he had received undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University. He’s fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

He was hooked on politics as a college freshman and worked on Bob Graham’s first gubernatorial campaign — back when Graham’s name-recognition numbers were negligible. He became an assistant to Gov. Graham and later the first director of the state’s Caribbean Basin Initiative program.

He has been assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a special assistant to the president of the United States, Office of the Special Envoy for the Americas. He has practiced corporate securities and administrative law in Miami.

Currently, Sanchez is the Tampa-based managing director of Cambridge Negotiation Strategies, where his work for corporations and governments ranges from labor-management negotiations to alliance management. He frequently pivots out of Tampa for trouble-shooting sorties in Latin America.

His domestic political message is steeped in economics.

The “centerpiece” of a Sanchez campaign, he says, would be the “maintaining and improving of the quality of life” of Tampa. “That means maintaining a solid economic base. To Greco’s credit, he did that. You can’t pay for public safety, public housing and the cultural arts without it.”

To that end, Sanchez has a five-bullet short list:

 Promote international trade and investment.

 Find Tampa’s high-tech niche, using USF as an anchor.

 Continue the development of downtown, a “diamond in the rough.”

 Build stronger relationships with Hillsborough County

 Be a collaborative regional player, especially with Pinellas County.

“We should see ourselves as a city that can attract regional, national or Latin American headquarters,” says Sanchez. “Let’s not denigrate ourselves because we didn’t get an Olympics. This is a pretty good city. The infrastructure is here, yet there’s a small town feel. We’re unique. We have to capitalize on that.”

And as to his electability?

“Frank had lots of options,” says USF History Professor Paul Dosal, a long-time friend, “yet he chose to come back home. People remember and respect him. He transcends party lines. I’ve been apolitical for years, but this is the one candidate I would work for.”

Sanchez seems sanguine enough.

“I can be very competitive in terms of raising money,” he states. “As for name recognition, remember who it was that I cut my political teeth with. People said Bob Graham didn’t have a prayer.”

So, is Mayor Greco praying for Sanchez?

“I just hope there’s a lot of interest in the race,” demurs Greco. “It’s important for the voters to have a real choice.”

But Greco does offer this: “Frank Sanchez is a very impressive young man. I think he’s serious about wanting to do something here. He understands the system; knows the city; is articulate in three languages; a Harvard grad. Yes, he can be formidable.”

Teach your children well:

A recent column sparked a spate of (ok, seven) emails responding positively to the comment by psychologist Alan Lewis that the attack on America presents, among other things, a “critical learning experience” for our children. “Maybe we need to remind our kids of what America is and what’s worth protecting,” opined Lewis.

His words certainly struck a chord with me. The only thing worse than the atrocity of September 11 would be a failure to respond properly. We are already doing it militarily and diplomatically. The propaganda front is more problematic.But the opportunity to imbue a sense of what it means to be an American in our children mustn’t be missed. And it has nothing to do with jingoism; nor is it the stuff of raw consumerism.

Being an American kid must mean more than parroting patriotic phrases and having a lot of stuff. It must mean more than a birthright entitlement program for the latest and greatest from the worlds of fashion and entertainment. If we as a country fight for individual opportunity and freedom, we win because our cause is just. If we fight for bigger and better stuff, our cause is less noble and our victory less assured.

Being an American kid must mean an understanding that having stuff is a byproduct of a free enterprise system that is highly productive. It’s where opportunity abounds, but success is not guaranteed. Somebody worked hard for that stuff, and America is a country that rewards such efforts. Often handsomely.

Others have bequeathed that to America’s kids through their work ethic. The Latest Generation is fortunate enough to have been born into such a system, but soon it will be their turn to link into that legacy and measure up. Right now it means doing their part to properly equip themselves by taking advantage of their educational opportunities.

Being an American kid must also mean an appreciation of what freedom actually means. It’s not an abstraction; it’s not a buzzword.

Generation Next lives in a democracy. Before too long, these kids will be old enough to vote in their government leaders — because they can. And they must. It’s not a perfect system, just the best one yet. They also live in a land where the rule of law prevails, and a Constitution and a Bill of Rights protect us all. Innocent until proven guilty is legal bedrock. The press is not a government mouthpiece, and the practice of religion is personal and protected. God blesses America, but God is not an American. He also helps those who help themselves.

America’s kids must never forget that where there are rights, there are responsibilities. The other guy has rights too. And as a melting-pot nation, we are tolerant — but not stupid.

Put it this way.

Wave the flag. Please. And wave it on high and proudly — and not just during a crisis, a World Series or an Olympics. But remember that freedom had to be won; that’s how this country started. And once won, continuously affirmed and defended.

In a world where envy and enmity are our enemies, the status quo is no ally of freedom. Affirming and defending will be your responsibility too, because you benefit most from living here.

Now go out and play.

Gunshine State update

Across Florida, as we have seen recently, more people are buying handguns and requesting applications to secretly carry them. Apparently it has nothing to do with crime stats, most of which are down. It has everything to do with an overreaction to terrorism.

The imminent enemy right now is fear. It is the calculated game plan of bioterrorism. No Islamic fanatics are coming to our houses. It’s hardly the modus operandi of despicable, theocratic cowards. But jittery folks with guns are downright scary.

So what does the chairman of Florida’s Senate Select Committee on Public Security and Crisis Management do? If you’re Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, you start packing heat, as in a Colt .38 caliber handgun. Never know when you might have to shoot a spore.

Thanks for the leadership.

Psychologist sees geopolitical lesson in attack

While America strikes back at terrorism and rallies around the notion of normalcy, there remains among many of us a disquieting sense of foreboding. What will the other shoe look like? Where will it drop? The scenarios are as varied as they are virulent.

Amid all the anxious conjecture, however, is a constant. Our lives will never be the same again. And that includes dealing with the knave new world of terrorism with our children. Their lives, of course, will never be the same again either.

Tampa psychologist Alan Lewis offers some observations and advice, some of which may surprise you. Lewis, a native New Yorker whose counseling experience ranges from anxiety-ridden, post-robbery bank tellers to traumatized paramedics and firefighters, suggests a combination of common sense and “critical learning experience” in helping our kids.

“The most important thing for parents to do is reassure their children that they’re safe,” advises Lewis. “For kids, their own safety is paramount. Reassure them that the people around them will keep them safe. Reassure them that what they’re going through is normal.”

He urges “circumspection” in front of children, which is what “parents should do anyway,” he adds. Ditto for monitoring the violence — whether in videos or in horrifically real newscasts — they are exposed to.

But Lewis also reminds parents that there is “nothing wrong with the opportunity to display emotions.

“Kids take their cues from their parents, whether they’re 9 or 19,” he points out. “It’s not inappropriate for kids to realize that this is important, and there is a sense of anger. Don’t try to be overprotective. Kids invariably understand more than we think. Just keep it on their level. And remember that grief is normal.

“You know, and this will sound funny coming from a psychologist, but ‘grief counseling’ almost implies that it’s abnormal and therefore requires a counselor,” notes Lewis. “What we have been going through — since the unthinkable occurred — is a normal process.”

Lewis also advocates using the terrorist attacks on America as a “launching pad” to talk about things we normally don’t discuss with our kids. For example: “This country needs to be defended.”

He draws a geopolitical parallel, which lends itself to a critical learning experience.

“Muslim kids, as we’ve seen, are indoctrinated at an early age,” says Lewis. “Maybe we need to remind our kids of what America is and what’s worth protecting.”

It’s zero-sum time for the U.S.

The U.S. is obviously in a zero-sum game with terrorists. The president has put every nation on notice that they are either “with us or with the terrorists.”

President Bush has been properly commended for his efforts at underscoring that America’s response to terrorist attacks are aimed at terrorists — not at Islam or Arabs. We don’t want a holy war, just a wholly justified military response to a despicable act of war perpetrated not by “warriors” but by craven agents of evil.

On the rhetoric front, we now need internationally respected Islamic clerics to step up and say what the president said — without qualification. In effect: “Those who pervert Islam through horrific murders and suicides deserve the harshest punishment and condemnation by Muslims.” And don’t stop saying it until this scourge has been vanquished.

America, however, only wins the war with evil if we are more committed to our cause — freedom and our way of life — than our enemies are to theirs, the destruction of same. To that end, it would be wise to remember:*How the Israelis took care of the Black September terrorists from the 1972 Munich Olympics. They painstakingly and methodically hunted them down and assassinated them. No headlines, no Muslimmania backlash. Of course, the sheer scope of the New York and Washington attacks and continued threats to the U.S. is far greater than what the Israelis faced, but the principle is the same. Not all of our commandos will be in fatigues.

*We are not the United-States-of-Hyphenated-America. We are Americans. Period.

*The critical issue with the media is not whether its members wear patriotic symbols, but that it remain mindful that in the global village, its broadcasts go everywhere.

*Never again should we refer to celebrity athletes as “heroes.”

*Should the Rev. Jesse Jackson ever make that mediation trip to Kabul, it must be with two provisos. His ticket is one-way and that he be accompanied in similar fashion by California Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of the House who didn’t vote in favor of giving use-of-force powers to President Bush.

*There’s a lot to criticize about our culture, but that’s our call. Those who treat their women as chattel, dress them as speed bumps and enjoy a good public beheading haven’t earned that right. No more than those who believe executing the innocent punches your ticket to paradise and guarantees a virgin lay-away plan.

*America is well served by adopting contemporary counterparts of WW II “victory gardens” and war-bond drives. That means not being intimidated out of our routines. Loving and counseling our families; looking after our neighbor; doing our jobs; showing the flag; making purchases; riding planes; enduring inconveniences.

It’s zero-sum time.

Reflections amid aftershocks: commitments to keep

President Bush is doing what he should in rallying the civilized world against terrorism. He’s assessing America’s full arsenal of carrots and sticks. Pakistan can attest to that. This is a zero-sum game and nobody draws a bye. The president effectively underscored that reality in his Thursday night speech to Congress, the American people — and the rest of the world.

While it was the U.S. that was specifically targeted on Sept. 11, all of humanity was attacked. More than 80 countries lost citizens; everyone lost a sense of civilization.

But while we ask others if they’re with us or with the terrorists, there is something else we must demand — and we must demand it of ourselves. We must be more committed to defending ourselves and our way of life than terrorists are to its destruction.

The ultimate mettle detector is in place. It already has yielded results; none more graphic than the heroism on daily display in New York. Not all are so noble.

When the House of Representatives approved the use of force by the president, the vote was 420-1. Normally that’s unheard of, de facto unanimity. Not so this time. How dare Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., vote against such a measure! Even if her Oakland constituency consisted of nothing but ethnic Afghani Quakers, Rep. Lee’s vote was an abomination. This was not the Gulf of Tonkin II; this was a morally justified, nationally necessary response to war, horrifically and despicably waged against America in our midst.

Nonetheless, the bipartisan vote was a strong signal to terrorists and civilized nations alike that as diverse as we are as a nation, we are united in our defense of ourselves and everything we value.

Now is a time for the media, which, on balance, has comported itself responsibly, professionally and even patriotically, to not yield to competitive instincts as America’s response plays out over these next weeks, months and years.

We need to know what’s going on and how we can help. We don’t, however, need to know, for instance, where Vice President Cheney is at a given time, what circuitous routes Air Force One takes out of obvious national security concerns or commando-deployment details.

More to the point, we Americans aren’t the only ones in the global village watching the network and cable news programming.

ABC anchor Peter Jennings, for one, has been a reassuring rock. And there have been others. Campbell Brown, an NBC White House reporter, however, was the antithesis with cheap-shot, smug speculation about President Bush not returning to Washington immediately after the terrorist attacks — and the implications for his “legacy.” It was beyond poor taste.

It’s now critical for Americans to finally see past the divisiveness that has long been the by-product of our politically correct infatuation with diversity and its resultant sense of separateness.

A hyphenated America, whether in the form of Irish-Americans, Jewish-Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Disabled-Americans or Lesbian-Americans cannot be as united as it needs to be. Bring back the melting pot; hold the salad bowl.

And now is not the time for finger-pointing and scapegoating. Yes, coordination among the C.I.A., the I.N.S. and the F.B.I. would have been a good idea, and, yes, airplane and airport security could have been much better. We can fix that without rounds of recriminations.

We also need to walk that fine — but definable — line between the legitimate, prudent profiling of people at critical security links across this nation and hysterical, hateful behavior toward innocent American Muslims. Many of these people are here by choice, not just by the luck of birthright. The overwhelming majority are solid citizens with a profound sense of family and the highest regard for education and work ethic. They are loyal Americans who happen to look different. Their Islamic religion preaches peace. Its perversion is not their fault.

And speaking of religion, evangelical yahoos need to dismantle their moralizing and demoralizing pulpits that masquerade as bull horns of intolerance. Their fire-and-brimstone, “we-had-it-coming-because-of-loose-morals-and-gay-coupling” message must yield to those — across the spectrum of religious denominations — who can actually help America in its hour of need.

And we certainly don’t need to be lectured to about our corrupt culture by Islamic extremists and fatwa fanatics who treat women as chattel and mark their calendars for upcoming public beheadings.

No, America isn’t perfect, just perfectly vulnerable to the agents of evil. We may be too good for our own good. We’re going to change some things about America, and make it more secure, but we won’t change the essence of who we are and what we stand for.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it best. “We can change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or change the way they live. We choose the later.”

Amen.

God bless America.

U.S. response to terrorism: all options on the table

While the U.S. continues to bolt and reinforce the recently slammed-shut barn door of airline security and government surveillance, it must come to grips with the most pragmatic of realities regarding terrorism.

Are, as has been intimated by government officials, “all options” for dealing with terrorism on the table? And if so, we all know what that means. It means the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Hopefully that won’t be the case, for that unbottled genie is everybody’s nightmare. Prometheus unbound rescues no one.

The president, however, is certainly taking the right approach by trying to “rally the (civilized) world.” To date, we’ve received a lot of sympathy cards and rhetorical support from everybody but Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The time to put up is now.

Here, however, is a crucial element in any plan to lead a crusade-for-humanity against the forces of evil and their sponsors. We must have a universal definition of “terrorist.”

Try this one: “Anyone who targets innocents or treats them as mere collateral damage to advance a cause.”

Necessarily absent are attempts to value-judge “causes.” That goes for Chechnyan terror in the subways of Moscow or its counterparts in Belfast, Jerusalem, Beijing, Manila, Jakarta, Cairo, Bogota, Havana, New York or Washington. The greater good of civilization takes pragmatic priority over what is a truly “just” cause, even though we all know one when we see it.

But a car bomb that takes out civilians as a means to bringing down the Castro government is no less treacherous and condemnable than a suicide bomber in an Israeli disco. The only ideology that counts is agreement on the elimination of the scourge that is global terrorism.

Next time, we have to figure, it won’t be an airplane but a cruise liner, city bus or maybe anthrax in the water supply.

Then there is this — and it’s no less touchy than the matter of nuke use. Whatever we do in the way of a coordinated military, diplomatic and economic response to terrorists and those who harbor them is not a response to the root cause of evil acts of treachery and murder. Muslim fanatics, steeped in envy and enmity, hate what they see in us — as in unfettered secularism, hegemony, wealth, power and a crass and crude culture. We’ll do anything, they would submit, for money and oil.

But not enough to warrant the execution of our innocents.

That would take our inextricable role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is the epicenter of those terrorist shock waves that have now reached continental America. At some point, and for obvious reasons it can’t be now, we need to ask if we have signed a suicide pact with Israel.

Asking that now, of course, is to invite denunciation as a capitulating, fair-weather friend who yields to intimidation.

The broaching of this subject, however, also needs to be on the table of options. This isn’t cut-and-run time. The state of Israel, a staunch ally, is not up for brokering.

What it arguably is, however, is time to evaluate our hermetically-sealed bond with Israel, including its powerful U.S. lobby, and the policies most inimical to Palestinians. Have we, or have we not, reached the point of bloody tit-for-tat in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that renders “who started it” the mootest of points in an ever-escalating spiral of violence and virulence? From the Irgun and the Stern Group to suicide bombers, there’s enough blame to go around through more than a half century.

The British, like the French in Indo-China, managed to extricate themselves from Palestine two generations ago. The U.S. ought to at least consider deviating from the status quo — with or without the help of the United Nations, with or without the consent of Israel.

Bin Laden, done that? The price to be paid

I know you all know the feeling. The collective revulsion at watching the horrific events of Tuesday unfold with mouths agape and fists clenched. Waves of shock and anger. And a visceral, sickening sadness. And tears. And more anger. That outrageously obscene footage of Palestinians celebrating in the West Bank and Gaza. Celebrating the execution of thousands of innocent people. Beyond barbarity, beyond belief.

America’s response to a declaration of war on this country and our way of life, as we’ve heard President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell pledge, will be appropriate. As in, we trust, swift, sure and final. Not just, we assume, the symbolic lobbing of cruise missiles into some Afghani caves and tents.

We owe a proper military response, first and foremost, to ourselves. And to those who died — died doing their jobs in the world’s most productive economy — or died trying to save others. We also owe it to most of the rest of the world, who need us more than they know. This was a cowardly attack on civilization and humanity.

If we, as the planet’s lone super power, don’t do something, it won’t be done, and the forces of terrorism win by default. We didn’t win the Cold War only to falter against Muslim martyrs queuing up for paradise and a side order of virgins.

Here, then, is America’s World War III policy, though not in the calm calculation of State Department vernacular or the soaring rhetoric of a JFK inaugural speech: “If you aid, abet, plan or carry out terrorist acts against the U.S., you die.” Proscriptions against assassination don’t apply. These are military targets, as was Hitler in his bunker. To quote Joe Louis, who knew a thing or two about taking out someone, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” It went for Billy Conn; it goes for Osama bin Laden.

And for sovereign states: “If you harbor, you get hammered.” Don’t even try to hide behind some gauzy shield of geo-political piffle or self-serving, craven pap about Fundamentalist dynamics. You can have all-Allah-all-the-time and still not be enabling jihad junkies. We’ll help you, but you’re accountable. It’s not an option. No more than evil is an option.

And for airline passengers to, from and within the U.S., don’t even think of complaining about “profiling.” Sorry, but we have plenty of other places to celebrate diversity. And for minimum-wage, minimum-training, maximum-attitude security personnel, start looking elsewhere for employment. Your job will be federalized, professionalized and standardized.

Perspective, however, can be an early battle casualty. Pearl Harbor, for all its parallels and infamy, was war the old fashioned way. It was a lot easier to declare — and implement — war on an Empire. Bin Laden isn’t Tojo. And this just in: the United Nations sends a sympathy card and NATO says it stands with us. France has our back.

Cynicism, however, is a self-destructive vice in a time of national emergency.

It’s said that Israel is the only country that can’t afford to lose a war. It would cease to exist if it did. Well, the U.S. cannot afford to lose this one. It’s zero-sum time. Fortunately, we can rally the civilized world — and that’s still most of it — but only under two conditions.

First, we must agree on a universal definition of “terrorist.” Try “Anyone who targets innocents or treats them as mere collateral damage to advance a cause.” We can’t be value-judging causes — whether it’s Chechnyan terror in Moscow’s subways or its counterparts in Belfast, Jerusalem, Beijing, Manila, Jakarta, Cairo, Bogota, Havana or New York. The greater good takes pragmatic priority.

Second, we must be more committed to our cause than our enemies are to theirs. We, as Americans, need to jettison our heritage hyphens and defend freedom and the most productive nation in the history of the world. They, the despicable forces of evil, seek to destroy that. Ultimately, that’s a lost cause. And we can ensure it. See above.

God bless America.

Gary Condit’s prime time

So, after more than 100 days of saying nothing in public about his relationship with Chandra Levy, Gary Condit goes on ABC’s Prime Time with Connie Chung and proceeds to continue to say nothing. It was the verbal equivalent of silence, accompanied by a rhetorical nose thumbing to Ms. Levy, her family, the police, Condit’s constituents and anyone within earshot.

If the Modesto voters, out of stupidity or amorality, re-elect Condit after that performance, they deserve him. Moreover, they might then consider a vote on secession. He taints all of us.

He not only denied that he lied to Mrs. Levy over the nature of his relationship with her daughter, he attributed such an impression to her misunderstanding of what he told her. He even had the effrontery to use the Levy family as a shield to ward off Chung’s questions about his relationship with Ms. Levy by saying he was honoring their “specific request” that he spare everyone the truth.

For good measure, he labeled Anne Marie Smith, who says she is a former paramour, an opportunist looking for her “15 minutes of fame.”

As for that affidavit sent her requesting her written denial of a sexual relationship between them, that was not a suborning of anything — merely a bunch of lawyer-to-lawyer yada yada.

To this day, asserted Condit, he remains “puzzled” at how so many folks — from the Levys and Chandra’s Aunt Linda Zamsky to Smith and former aide Joleen McKay to the D.C. police — can get so many details wrong about how he has comported himself and what he has said.

It was an hour-long exercise in giving scoundrel a bad name. And for the first time in memory, it was the media who we were empathizing with — even in the person of someone married to Maury Povich.

As a public relations ploy, the interview was a disaster. Condit apologized for nothing, merely acknowledging that he was not exempt from the human condition, for he too had made “mistakes,” albeit unnamed, in his life.

Indeed.

It was quintessentially Clintonesque, chapter and verse. Remember Bill Clinton admitting to “60 Minutes” in 1992 that he surely had “caused pain” in his marriage. That was his “answer” to a question about his involvement with Gennifer Flowers.

Enough to make us all nostalgic for the credibility and candor of Ted Kennedy’s moving mea culpa over Chappaquiddick.

Is Tampa a victim of racial profiling?

Could it be that the Florida A&M-Bethune Cookman Florida Classic, formerly held in Tampa, has been replaced by the Punch Bowl?

Some would say so, including at least one “progressive” religious leader, who sees a continuum of racial slights and insults. Same racist game, but different visiting teams.

By now, we’re all too familiar with the recent incident, the anatomy of a rumor and the birth of an indignation, over at downtown Tampa’s Marriott Waterside Hotel.

A member of the predominately black Progressive National Baptist Convention saw a melanin-challenged Marriott staffer spit into a fruit punch bowl. Or maybe he took a sip. Or retrieved a ladle. Or dropped in a Baby Ruth bar for comic relief. Moreover, he then tainted a 1,000-person, sit-down meal of grilled salmon and filet mignon. Or not.

Whatever, by the time the general manager, who was not on site, could be summoned, the Rev. C. Mackey Daniels, head of the PNB convention, had issued marching orders. The group then walked out on the pricey repast. They marched to the nearest, next-biggest hotel, which mercifully wasn’t an Adam’s Mark. Presumably, they didn’t call ahead requesting a table with a viewpoint for 1,000. The downtown Hyatt Regency should be commended for scrambling to put out the mother of all chicken wing spreads.

The person, later identified as the Rev. Frederick Jones, who saw whatever it was that was to be seen at the Marriott is not talking. Except to PNB lawyers. Certainly not to anyone in Tampa, including the Marriott, the mayor, the media and the police. In fact, Jones checked out of his hotel early and left town.

The person, later identified as Istvan Kovacs, who was seen doing whatever it was that was done, says he merely retrieved a ladle, taking pains to avoid dipping any digits into the punch.

The truth is out there somewhere, but the staffer’s credibility is understandably — and likely irretrievably — undermined. Not only is he white, but he unfortunately hails from that hotbed of racial intolerance — Hungary.

Bigot-guilty until proven otherwise.

Only reinforcing the Napoleonic code was Paul Catoe, the untenably positioned president of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “Until someone comes forward to prove to us something didn’t happen, we’ll assume it did,” Catoe told the St. Petersburg Times.

It’s come to this. City officials, including Mayor Dick Greco, apologizing for whatever, if anything, happened. And it’s incumbent upon the city to prove a negative. It’s not incumbent upon the PNB convention, however, to even help clarify the matter, except to its legal counsel.

Since the case for black victimization is so easy to make in politically correct America, including, some would contend, in racially retro Tampa, then it must be true. Whatever “it” is.

As a city, Tampa is racially profiled. Call it hosting while white. It’s based on incidents past, some legitimate and some not. It now feeds on itself.

For example, notice how the first Marriott media accounts also referenced the complaints of black Florida Classic visitors in 1994 who were angry that Tampa Bay Center, across from what was then Houlihan’s Stadium, closed early on game day.

The ensuing racial flap, which made the rounds again last year during the FAMU Law School site-selection charade, led to the game being moved to Orlando. What’s never mentioned in the media mantra is that TBC merchants welcomed the middle-class, middle-aged fans in town for reunions and shopping — but not the problematic onslaught of unaffiliated teenagers who historically flock to major “black events.”

Interesting that when the Rev. Daniels convened an ad hoc board meeting a couple of days after the Marriott incident, he presented a list of 20 racially charged incidents in Tampa’s past.

And it was current enough to include the racial discrimination lawsuit involving black women basketball players at the University of South Florida. He had no details about the damning allegations the PNB convention had made, but he had his show-and-tell Top 20.

His moral high ground was a sinkhole, but it didn’t matter. This is no more about M.L. King and Rosa Parks than Sean King and Bert Parks.

What seemed paramount to Rev. Daniels was leverage not enlightenment. For all of its civil rights lingo and the rhetoric of outrage and humiliation, The PNB Convention is after a financial settlement. Somebody will get stiffed because rumor-mongering must be a sacred calling.

The PNB Convention is playing the extortion game because it can. Tampa will be held hostage to further soiling of its reputation as a convention city unfriendly to blacks, whatever the merits of the Great Expectoration incident.

But give the Rev. Daniels credit for something. He is pursuing restitution, if not the truth, religiously.