Sign Of Change?

It was the student-led, anti-gun violence “March for our Lives” gathering in St. Petersburg. It was only a few hundred people, and it was only a few dozen signs. But one of those signs spoke volumes for what it will take politically to get beyond the dysfunction, divisiveness and sheer anger we are now living.

“We are diverse. We are truthful. We are compassionate. We are informed. We vote.”

If only that one sign were to truly resonate. Because that must be the realistic, idealistic and pragmatic message going forward for all those desperate to make a difference as they fear where this country is going under this Administration.

In short, remember that you still represent the majority in this country: from demographics to values. But that, as we lamentably saw in 2016, is not nearly enough, even though volume and vitriol don’t define majority. And it’s not nearly enough if caring, diverse people are not informed enough on the issues and not motivated enough to vote for America’s self-interest.

And that includes Democratic millennial socialists and Bernie die-hards who can’t muster enthusiasm for “establishment” Democratic candidates, including the ultimate, non-socialist Democrat at the top of the ballot in a presidential year. It also includes minorities, even if the presidential ticket is all white.

The focus has to be more than post-Pelosi and encouraging electoral signs from Queens to Little Havana. The focus must also prioritize Trump-Pence and all its dire implications. How can the possibility of that reprise not rally everyone who truly cares about America and truly fears its current caretakers?

The 2018 mid-terms are about political leverage, human values and societal priorities. The 2020 presidential election will be all of that plus where America fits in the world, what’s really in our national-security and economic self-interest and who we still are as a people.

Being angry is understandable and appropriate. In-your-face confrontation with the usual sell-out suspects shows attitude and can be a visceral rush. But ultimately this is about group therapy. This is about being collectively caring, informed and motivated to vote for all the right, not just righteous, reasons. It’s also about having the guts to be undaunted by vile and volume.

And this is about Making America Grateful that enough of its citizens are moving to reclaim the moral and ethical high ground of the Oval Office and remove a cult figure lionized by societal haters and political harlots.

Artless Choice

As St. Petersburg has evolved from parochial to hip, there has been a world-class constant: The downtown waterfront. Refreshingly, aesthetically, open and green. Natural beauty protected and preserved. It rivals the best waterfront vistas in the, yes, world.

Now the city is well on its way to putting up a massive (more than 300-feet long), $3 million art piece–a Janet Echelman net sculpture–on the St. Petersburg waterfront. Thin line between colorful, signature art and sacrilegious, tacky clutter. Very thin.

Unsolicited advice: Don’t do it. That waterfront is uniquely special. For more than a century, St. Pete has made it a sacrosanct priority–no matter how many developers salivated over it. Now snob appeal–or public art cachet–has it primed for an out of scale sculpture to highlight and help market the new Pier District.

St. Pete and Mayor Rick Kriseman: You have a priceless asset in your uncompromised, peerless waterfront. Keep it that way.

Mayoral Pragmatism

If you’re a true-blue, liberal Democrat, Mayor Bob Buckhorn is not a soul mate. If you’re a Republican, he’s on the other team,  even if he has attended some GOP-candidate fundraisers involving friends. If you’re a Tampa-first sort, Buckhorn is (with the exception of relations with Cuba) your pragmatic guy. So talk of Democrats being wary of Buckhorn’s cordial–hardly “bromantic”–relationship with Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott seems exaggerated.

Recall that Buckhorn didn’t like what Scott did with Obama Administration high-speed rail money, and he wasn’t pleased with Scott not being helpful when it came to trying to create a gun-free zone around the GOP Convention in 2012. He hasn’t forgotten, but he hasn’t lost his focus. He and his city still needed Scott’s help going forward.

Scott helped with TIA expansion. He wants to be a credit-taking catalyst in a better-late-than-never private-sector, Orlando-to-Tampa, high-speed rail scenario. He’s been involved in state money allocated for the street car system and placing that (Rays stadium-designated) Ybor site on the state’s list for a federal tax break. Sure, it’s self-serving, I-4 Corridor-anchor strategy in an senatorial election year–but it’s no less helpful to Tampa.

As usual, the sound-bite-smitten mayor had a vintage response to the “bromance” skeptics. “Ultimately, my job as the mayor is to work with everybody who is willing to work with me,” said Buckhorn. “Democratic, Republican or vegan.”

Menace Among Us

Some things–for example, car-racing on public streets or “celebratory” shooting–are so unconscionably stupid and dangerous–and so hard to prevent–that when someone is actually arrested, the bookcase should be thrown at them. No second chances–because we all know this was only the first time being caught–just a high-profile maximum sentence. To make a well-publicized example of. No, it won’t stop all others, maybe just a few. That’s worth it.

Bullish on USF

It was a Bullish week for USF.

Most notably, it won recognition as one of Florida’s “preeminent” universities. Move over, Florida and Florida State.

It means prestige and more annual funding, which can lead to even more prestige. It came as a result of USF meeting targeted goals–from incoming-student GPAs and six-year graduation rates to achieving national renown for ratcheting numbers of patents and research dollars. The challenge will be to keep going across three campuses without compromising diversity. That’s how memberships in Phi Beta Kappa and the Association of American Universities happen. That’s next up.

It also made headlines with its hiring of a new athletic director. By all accounts, Michael Kelly, 47, the chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff and former USF associate AD under Lee Roy Selmon, checks all the boxes, including the one that says “no baggage.”

Kelly comes with a reputation as a well-organized, disciplined visionary for whom networking and thinking big are givens. A formidable agenda–from Power Five conference membership and upgraded facilities to a revitalized men’s basketball team–awaits.

Kelly’s high-profile hiring is a reminder that athletics at the university level is more than mere sports. It is, as Skip Holtz once observed, a school’s “front porch.” It can attract outside interest that can lead to involvement in other areas of university endeavor. It can aid and abet fund-raising. It can be a bottom-line contributor in today’s TV network-driven marketplace. It can also rally a student body, boosters and alumni like nothing else can. It matters on multiple levels.

The welcome tandem of good news was also a reminder of what a regional asset USF is–and has been. Even through its formative years when it was often referenced as (merely) a “commuter school” just because it was a non-land-grant, major city university addressing the higher education needs of non-traditional students. It hasn’t been “Sandspur U” for two generations.

USF is an avatar of higher education’s future: Not in college towns–but in synergistic, urban hubs where research can also be applied.

Go, Bulls.

Losing With Winston

If you’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ management, these are anxious, unsettling times. Trying to right the franchise ship, save jobs and put last year’s lost season behind them isn’t made easier by the season-opening, three-game suspension of starting quarterback–and, alas, face of the franchise–Jameis Winston.

Winston, we know, came to the Bucs with all that sexual assault notoriety–plus other conduct baggage from Florida State–as the league’s number one draft pick. He was damaged–but talented, Heisman-winning–goods. But he has been incident-free in the Tampa Bay community. In fact, the Bucs have been pleased at how he has officially represented them around town.

But other towns count no less. Now there’s the groping case involving a female Uber driver in Las Vegas that has put Winston and Bucs’ management into the national #MeToo crosshairs–not where any organization with a social conscience and PR cognizance wants to be. Now there’s the league suspension, which Winston didn’t appeal, after an eight-month investigation that refuted his denials. He ultimately offered up a lame, pro-forma apology.

And rest assured, “win one for the groper” has been making the rounds.

There’s also this. Three years in, Winston still doesn’t look as good as expected–or as needed. More Josh Freeman than Tom Brady. Much more.

The Bucs bottom-line dilemma: Can they really win with this guy? And if so, would they be winning with Dr. Jameis or Mr. Hyde?

Losing With Winston

If you’re Tampa Bay Bucs management, these are unsettling times. Trying to right the franchise ship, save jobs and put last year’s lost season behind them isn’t made easier by the season-opening, three-game suspension of starting quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston came to the Bucs with all that sexual-assault notoriety–plus other conduct baggage– while at FSU. He was damaged–but talented, Heisman-winning–goods. But he’s been incident free in the Tampa Bay community. The Bucs are pleased at how he officially represents them. But now we have the groping case involving a female Uber driver in Las Vegas. Hence, the suspension after an 8-month NFL investigation.

There’s also this. Three years in, Winston still doesn’t look as good as expected–or as needed. More Josh Freeman than Tom Brady. Much more.

Hence, the Bucs dilemma. Can they really win with this guy? And if so, would they be winning with Dr. Jameis or Mr. Hyde?

Sic(k)Transit Tampa

Ever notice how often transportation is in the news around here? Within the last fortnight we’ve been reading and hearing about a possible HART takeover of the Downtowner shuttle, the need to get regional partners on board for the cross-bay ferry, grant-subsidizing, free-rides on the TECO Streetcar Line and a citizens group gathering signatures for a transit initiative.

Ever notice how little has changed while the rest of Tampa Bay reinvents and re-imagines how to keep pushing this otherwise fast-forwarding, major-metro market envelope of the 21st century?

Two takeaways:

* The streetcar has been an amenity for visitors, not a form of meaningful transit. It looks nostalgically cool, even with all the ads, and is prominent in convention pitches and network TV coverage of Tampa sports events.

But it was supposed to be much more by now. The streetcar movers and shakers always envisioned their project as a starter set for light rail mass transit. Not even close–but an extension to Tampa Heights could still happen as more people move downtown and more people start taking advantage of upcoming free fares, which could prove catalytic and habit-forming.

*Good luck to the citizens group, All for Transportation, that is now collecting signatures to get a sales tax initiative on the November 6 ballot that would raise billions for roads, bus expansion and, yes, light rail. Time is short–July 27–to get nearly 50,000 signatures. But Jeff Vinik is a key supporter, and he is the avatar of “can-do” around here. Plus, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a number of political leaders are supportive.

But the “Can’t Do” crowd remains the problem. It always has. The county’s GOP-leaning, no-tax-for-anything-especially-tracks crowd outnumbers more Democratic city residents. Absent a city-only referendum, the odds remain challenging–especially in an off-year election–to get a county-wide tax passed. The irony is that 600,000 new residents are projected to move here in the next 30 years–and they all won’t be moving to Water Street Tampa or The Heights.

We need a blue wave in November for all kinds of reasons.

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?

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.