Car Thefts: Domestic Terrorism

When it comes to the alarming incidence of teen car thefts, we know that well-intentioned leaders such as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and State Sen. Darryl Rouson are on the case for more youth programs. We also know that state legislators have tightened the law for the worst offenders, and that the Department of Juvenile Justice is rethinking its detention center operations.

Well and good, if inadequate for the here and now. We also need to acknowledge several overlapping bottom lines.

* There are a number of people in a position to make a theoretical difference in young lives, but none are more important than the adults at home. What good does it do to have more recreational activities if the operative question remains: “What else is there to do at 3 a.m.?”

* Even more to the point, joy-riding punks in speeding cars with no lights is an obvious public safety menace. It’s de facto domestic terrorism for all other drivers. This can’t be part of “the new normal.”

* Stupid enablers: How do you not lock your car and pocket your keys? It’s your property–and now you’ve jeopardized innocent lives because of what could play out.

* It’s been reported that St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway is planning to visit the Juvenile Detention Center to talk to “the kids.” Good idea. But what took so long? Pinellas County leads, as it were, the state in arrested car thieves. As a black police chief, Holloway is uniquely positioned for come-to-Jesus meetings with juvenile offenders, most of whom are black, some of whom will become road kill.

* “Black Lives Matter“: Any interest yet?

Teachable Moment

The Florida School Boards Association held a training session recently to help Hillsborough and Pinellas board members improve their effectiveness by focusing most notably on listening and respect. Perhaps it should have been more remedial.

Two Hillsborough board members, April Griffin and Tamara Shamburger had an embarrassing exchange where acting out and some crude language upstaged the kumbaya optics. Good thing teachers and students weren’t there to witness the antics.

But the press was.

City Council Rebuke

Say what you want about the progressive cities of San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, it was St. Petersburg, Florida that stepped up and cast a nationally-noted vote to limit contributions to political action committees. Say what you want about council idealism and naiveté, this 6-2 vote was, in effect, a well-needed rebuke to the game-changing Citizens United decision that removed restrictions on outside groups influencing elections. St. Petersburg has become a microcosm of what has to happen electorally before our democracy erodes any more. The local law will cap–at $5,000–what an individual can give to PACs involved in St.Pete elections. Moreover, it will also demand more transparency from donors.

We know that money talks. The St. Pete City Council just said that money, 2010 Supreme Court majority notwithstanding, is not speech.

This will take some time–and, yes, money–to play out in the court system. But somebody had to courageously take this principled stand for common sense for the common good. And here’s hoping all those activist organizations that preach how democracy desperately needs campaign finance reform will now step up and help underwrite whatever the Defend Our Democracy ordinance costs. We know what Citizens United has already cost us.

The Straz Age?

Should banker-philanthropist David A. Straz Jr. get into the next mayoral race–and the signs are more than manifest that he’s very seriously considering it–he will be more than a viable candidate. He could be the political pre-season pick if he decides to go all in. He has business acumen, money, connections, likeability and credibility.

This wouldn’t be a next-step, political career move for an up-and-comer. This could be the next national step in a maturing, redefining city’s growth and realization of potential.

And Straz, it should also be well noted, has a refreshing, enlightened-self-interest take on Tampa’s relationship with Cuba, one that has been missing in action at City Hall for too long.

Irma Reflections

* One of the most anxiety-producing headlines in memory was this one in USA Today: “For Tampa, ‘Our Day Has Come.'” To be in Seattle and read Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s apocalyptic forecast for our home town was numbing.

* There was no lack of teachable moments in the wake of the Hurricane Irma experience. Ask Santa for a generator. Have a higher-ground plan and a stash of bottled water. Utilities need to expand tree-cutting in advance of hurricane season and bury as many power lines underground as practicable. And the county and its hub city need to be on the same page, especially when it comes to evacuations. Hillsborough/Tampa should not be less in synch than Orange/Orlando and Pinellas/St. Petersburg.

Playing With House Money After Irma

Timing, we have been numbingly reminded, is everything. Our last-minute diversion from disaster has been well chronicled.

But in our specific case, timing also came in the form of a planned vacation that more than overlapped with Hurricane Irma’s skittishly frightening approach to the Tampa Bay area. It was eerie and anxious to watch from a distance, in this case the Pacific Northwest, about 3,000 miles away.

There’s perverse guilt in being distantly safe, and anxiety about your community and all you own–including memorabilia that you didn’t protect better. There’s also outrage about how the national broadcast media has turned nature’s might into disaster porn. From the apocalyptic-cones drumbeat to worst-case scenarios and tragic aftermaths.

“If it bleeds, it leads” morphs seamlessly into “If it scares, who cares?”

Well, my wife Laraine and I did, and we kept the oversized, hotel flat-screens off and checked in with neighbors and local Tampa-area media. And, frankly, at times such as this, we should regard Dennis Phillips, the WTSP Channel 28 (ABC) meteorologist, as a natural resource. He doesn’t hype; he goes out of his way to provide sane, nerve-calming, meteorological context. His Facebook posts should be required reading during hurricane season. “We got this one” will be his legacy–as well as Rule #7: “Stop freaking out … until I tell you to. We’re fine.”

But not even Phillips was spot on for this protean, once-in-a-century, super storm. He sounded almost apologetic before that last-minute shift back to the east that spared Tampa.

And it was up to Mayor Bob Buckhorn to wear out numerous hats. To those most in harm’s way: Be stern enough to order evacuation. It brought out that Mike Tysonesque quote: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.” To those who deserve a special circle in hell: Be intimidating enough to dissuade looters and price gougers. To everybody: hope without rationale for letting down a guard. “We are Tampa strong.”

At times like this, you can’t help envisioning the absolute worst: that long-overdue direct hit that wipes out Tampa and our daily lives as we’ve known them. Anything less than that, is a bonus. A lot less than that is, well, like playing with house money–and a new lease on an old life. One seen through a new lens of perspective. Family, friends, community, pets. That butterfly hovering around the ixora. The smell of jasmine and camellia. The manifestations of electricity. Reminders to selves to replenish the bird–and de facto squirrel–feeders. Seeing Hillsborough Bay with the right distribution of water. Taking nothing for granted, especially each other.

Our party for our neighbors is already scheduled. We’re all in this together. It’s been a collective sigh of relief. Debris has never seemed so immaterial. As Winston Churchill once noted: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

We are, indeed, #Tampa strong.

Trump’s An Issue In St. Pete

If I’m the Rick Kriseman campaign, I’m doubling down on linking Rick Baker with Donald Trump. And then hoping that the Baker campaign doesn’t wise up and change its strategy of ignoring Trump and doubling down on sewage.

And if I’m the Kriseman campaign, I’m also hoping that the loud, off-putting Baker on display on primary night stays away from anger-management classes until the November general election. If not, it would be virtually impossible to resist those “Baker Act Rick” signs and bumper stickers. Hell, that picture of Baker shrieking like some alt-right cheerleader might surface anyhow.

Normally, a blatantly partisan approach in a nonpartisan race would be blatantly inappropriate. You don’t bring national politics into play in a mayor’s race. It’s about local issues. Many in the media have pointed this out. The Tampa Bay Times, in fact, called it “cynical and flat wrong.”

The Times, as we increasingly notice, has been wrong before. And the times, as we’re also acutely aware, are anything but normal. Would that they were.

Trump is the game-changer. His long, pre-Oval Office track record speaks inelegantly for itself. He’s pathologically loathsome, a moral cretin, ethically challenged and a swaggering misogynist. We’ve also come to learn that he is largely unread, temperamentally unhinged and an existential threat, nationally and globally. What’s not to dislike?

Trump transcends all politics-as-usual tenets and precedents.

If a candidate can’t formally disassociate himself from this president–even if there’s an aberrant chunk of the electorate still channeling him–it says something about that candidate’s character. If you can’t disavow the outrageous, the unethical, the immoral and the pathological, you don’t deserve to be the mayor of St. Petersburg, a city that deserves so much better.

Rick Baker should show some character, some class and some smarts. Especially if Barack Obama gets more involved. This is still a Democratic city–one with infrastructure, inclusion, schools, Midtown and Tropicana Field scenarios to prioritize. That should be the focus of this election–once the core issue of character has been settled. If, indeed, it already hasn’t been.

Bad Karma

A University of Tampa sociologist makes an insensitive Harvey tweet about “instant karma” and the red state of Texas. Ultimately he “resigned” after being fired. There are more questions than answers.

Can’t academic freedom accommodate the deplorably dumb? Doesn’t the first amendment make provisions for the strikingly stupid? And this wasn’t exactly yelling fire in a crowded theater or requesting a parade permit in Little Havana to honor the Castro brothers. And, frankly, can’t smart people, such as professors, master the art of think-before-send?

The UT incident is also unwelcome propaganda. It has been–and will continue to be–ammo for Republican politicians and right-wing media. In effect, “Remember that Florida professor’s disgusting take on the tragedy in Houston? Said it was karma for being a red state. He really did. That’s what a hypocritical, LIBERAL professor thought. And you know he’s not the only one.”

That’s what really hurts.


The other day I was doing some stretching exercises at the gym–ok, health club–and I couldn’t keep my mind on what I was doing. I was aware of some chronic herniated disk issues that accompany me everywhere. I was also lost in thoughts about Hurricane Irma. Life wasn’t as fair as it should be.

Then, after coming out of a “downward-facing dog” yoga pose, I routinely looked around and happened to glance out the large window facing Azeele Street at the corner of South Dale Mabry. There, along a steamy sidewalk near a Starbucks was a person–couldn’t quite make out a gender–pushing a shopping cart filled far beyond capacity with stuff, likely a life’s possessions.

The person pushed the cart past the coffee icon, where a hipster-looking couple with a pedigreed poodle was savoring away in a shaded area. The cart-pusher, in a raggedy ensemble and shoulder-length hair, turned into the parking lot and moved out of sight. That dog, I thought, had a much better life. And my own travails, I also thought, just received a jolt of much-needed perspective.

Cuban Connection

It’s welcome news that there is finally an official Tampa City Council “delegation” heading to Cuba in October, even if it’s only two members (Yoli Capin and Harry Cohen). It still counts. More formal ties are important, with the city of Tampa and the state of Florida benefiting in obvious ways, from trade to security to the environment–to a consulate.

Also of note: Among local leaders traveling with Capin and Cohen is David A. Straz Jr. It’s not his first visit. And hardly incidental when your name is in play for the next mayoral election. Tampa needs a progressive point man in City Hall to max out on synergistic scenarios between Cuba and the city with historic roots in Havana.