Can voters rally around Janet Reno?

Janet Reno, as we’ve come to know, is a one-of-kind, buck-stops-here, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, I-gotta-be-me Democratic candidate for governor. That, of course, is not without appeal. As is the return of the native daughter who made it big inside the Beltway.

The 63-year-old former U.S. attorney general drives a pick-up truck, lives in her mom’s old Miami house and keeps her home telephone number listed — populist touches all.She doesn’t back off the baggage she ostensibly totes around: Waco, Elian, the Clinton years or an obvious Parkinson’s condition. She deals with all this political Samsonite directly, bluntly and, at times, humorously. Preceding her everywhere is the sort of name recognition that most political candidates can only fantasize about. Conventional wisdom still says she trumps the field in a primary sans run-off.

And yet.

For all the grit it’s taken to forge on with Parkinson’s; for all the fortitude needed to avoid defeat by notorious lose-lose scenarios; and for all the ad hominem cheap shots she’s had to endure; in person, she’s somehow less than the sum of those resolute, even defiant, parts.

At the podium, in front of political junkies and partisans, she is no longer a larger-than-life icon of the left. Just tall. And, well, short on passion.

And passion is hardly unimportant when it comes to being a catalytic candidate for change. It’s even more critical for energizing an electorate, especially traditional Democratic constituencies that must turn out in record numbers for Democrats to have a chance of unseating a powerful incumbent. Ultimately, voters are more likely to rally around a person than a name.

If what you see is what you get, then most folks at the recent Tiger Bay Club of Tampa gathering couldn’t have seen enough to get giddy over the prospect of a Jeb Bush-Janet Reno showdown. Reno, however, vowed to beat Jeb Bush “by getting out traditional Democratic voters.”

We’ll see.

Would that she hadn’t uttered, however, the mantra of all who already wax nostalgic for a polarizing return to the politics of “disenfranchisement.”

“If the votes had been counted the way the people who voted intended that they be counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States today, and Florida would have been won by the Democrats,” noted Reno.

So much for a one-of-kind candidacy when pandering is a stump-speech staple.

Reno delivered that stump spiel as if she were addressing a seminar. All she needed was an overhead projector. She would, she intoned, make the case to voters that they should support tax hikes to meet priority needs such as education, preventive health care and Everglades restoration. She would focus heavily on domestic violence prevention and information-technology funding.

None of these, of course, are wayward priorities. Despite his ideological tethers, Gov. Bush could probably agree. The devil, of course, is in the details.

As for what taxes or whose exemptions, well, that’s what long campaigns are for. At the end of which, “I gotta-be-me” candidates will have morphed into “I gotta-be-elected” politicians.

It’s in the mail

Never let it be said that Tampa isn’t on some cutting edges. And no, we’re not talking face-scans, lap-dances and sneakercams.

Starting next month Tampa will be one of just three cities nationwide giving the Segway Human Transporter — aka “It” and “Ginger” — a formal, 30-day, 12-mph run. The much hyped, battery-powered, gyroscopic-stabilized scooters will help ferry Tampa mail carriers on their rounds.

The check may not be in the mail, and the mail may not arrive any sooner. But this could be fun to watch.

A tragic lesson

At the risk of piling on a tragedy, just one question regarding the terrible hunting accident that resulted in a Tampa man accidentally shooting and killing his 9-year-old son last month. Why wasn’t that child in school?

An excursion to see Harry Potter on school time is enough of a reach, but a parent taking a kid out of school for several days to observe deer hunting? That’s where the negligence began. Tragically, it didn’t end there.

If dwarfs aren’t tossed, do the terrorists win?

It didn’t take all that long, did it? That is, a return to normalcy after the atrocities of 9/11.

Posturing and finger-pointing in Washington over the Administration’s economic package, military tribunals, anthrax response and Taliban-war strategy seems perversely patriotic. Attorney General John Ashcroft is in the righteous cross hairs of every civil libertarian.

A massive media recount of last year’s presidential recount had a nice, disenfranchising touch. And parody-silliness again knows no bounds. To wit — and with apologies to Gene Kelly — a Tonight Show send-up featuring the umbrella-twirling, “Dancing bin Ladens” crooning “Singing in Bahrain.” (“What a glorious jihad; we’re friends with Hussein.”)

And a fiscal food fight in Tallahassee showed Florida was back to business as usual.

Locally, the Bucs, good enough to be frustrating, are doing their part. Thanks also to ethically challenged judges and Steve LaBrake’s extended family.

Nothing, however, underscores the sanctity of American normalcy the way a bizarre, problematic lawsuit does. We are, after all, America the Litigious: Where the little guy still has his day in court.

Thanks to local radio personality David Flood and his attorney, Michael Steinberg, a lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court that challenges a 1989 state law outlawing “dwarf tossing.” Something about it being demeaning as well as dicey for those, who because of their stunted-growth condition, have especially brittle bones.

No matter. Flood, who is a dwarf, wants the right to be tossed. And the right, in short, to see that others are similarly uplifted and heaved when he goes, presumably, into the “dwarf tossing” business.

And if we follow the dubious precedent of repealing the state’s helmet law, perhaps Flood’s case won’t be given the heave-ho in court. In that case, Dave, don’t forget to sign that waiver and here’s hoping your next trip is a tight spiral.

Public vs. pundits
This isn’t anything new, but there appears to be a decided disconnect between the American public and many pundits over the president’s executive order setting up military tribunals to try terrorist suspects and accomplices.

That there is ample precedent, Supreme Court sanction and a national emergency seem inadequate rationales.

What the public — which is forced to live in the real world — gets and pundits don’t is this: The ultimate civil liberty is the right to continue to live. That’s what’s at stake when your country is attacked.

Close encounters of the incarcerated kind

Seems that Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice has been, until recently, letting prisoners leave extra early as an overly generous tradeoff for working jail jobs.

How’d he do that? Illegally. His slammer’s good-time and gain-time policy had been, it turns out, in violation of state law for two years.

But Sheriff Rice had his reasons: severe overcrowding, since alleviated by expansion.

A better solution? Make overcrowded prison quarters — and maybe no ESPN — part of an inmate’s sentence. This is, after all, about punishment — and disincentives to return to such uncomfortable digs.

Women of power

The current Ladies’ Home Journal ranks this country’s 30 most powerful women.

As a result, this is one of the few times you’ll see Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Britney Spears in the same sentence. For the record, they finished 7th and 9th, respectively.

It speaks volumes about our culture, but there is, at least, a little Justice somewhere.

Controlled choice coming soon

For the Pinellas County School Board, the post-segregation-era countdown continues toward the fall of 2003. That’s when the new “controlled choice” program begins.

Schools are now scrambling to figure out ways to attract sufficiently diverse populations.

Not a choice:

Women of power

The current Ladies’ Home Journal ranks this country’s 30 most powerful women.

As a result, this is one of the few times you’ll see Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Britney Spears in the same sentence. For the record, they finished 7th and 9th, respectively.

It speaks volumes about our culture, but there is, at least, a little Justice somewhere.

Close encounters of the incarcerated kind

Seems that Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice has been, until recently, letting prisoners leave extra early as an overly generous tradeoff for working jail jobs.

How’d he do that? Illegally. His slammer’s good-time and gain-time policy had been, it turns out, in violation of state law for two years.

But Sheriff Rice had his reasons: severe overcrowding, since alleviated by expansion.

A better solution? Make overcrowded prison quarters — and maybe no ESPN — part of an inmate’s sentence. This is, after all, about punishment — and disincentives to return to such uncomfortable digs.

Public vs. pundits

This isn’t anything new, but there appears to be a decided disconnect between the American public and many pundits over the president’s executive order setting up military tribunals to try terrorist suspects and accomplices.

That there is ample precedent, Supreme Court sanction and a national emergency seem inadequate rationales.

What the public — which is forced to live in the real world — gets and pundits don’t is this: The ultimate civil liberty is the right to continue to live. That’s what’s at stake when your country is attacked.

Brad Richards: A Superstar’s Life In The Steadfast Lane

Brad Richards is an international elite athlete. He’s handsome, single and rich.

He’s also “Richy.” That’s what family and best friends still call the 26-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning center who continues to defy superstar stereotypes and still loves life in the steadfast lane.

“He is viciously competitive,” says his agent Pat Morris, “as well as intelligent, witty and charming. I’ve never met anyone who gives more of himself outside his sport. He’s a tremendous person.”

His is hardly the monastic life, but Richards doesn’t live in a bachelor-pad penthouse with hot- and cold-running parvenu. He resides in a waterfront home in a quiet Davis Islands neighborhood. Grilling steaks poolside typically beats most nights out on the town. He’d rather be teeing it up on the golf course, where he’s a 3-handicap, than tanning around at the beach.

Other marquee athletes may have entourages or even “posses.” Richards, who is reserved and guarded in public, prefers the insulating comfort zone of a few close friends.

“You can hide here,” says Richards, the son of a lobsterman who grew up in Murray Harbour, a fishing village of less than 400 residents on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada’s smallest province. He likes the “small big city” feel of Tampa – as well as surrounding water and the winter weather.

Golfing is a decided perk. Observers his game could be good enough to play professionally if he could ever put in the time. But a grinding NHL schedule leaves only summers for real practice. And that has to fit in around off-season conditioning priorities.

Still, Richards gets out on the links when he can. Sometimes it’s a celebrity charity tournament; mostly it’s a foursome of friends. While golf may be the antithesis of a collision sport such as hockey, it dovetails with Richards’ off-ice, laid-back demeanor. He’s outdoors, out of the spotlight and in his informal element with a cocoon of best pals. It also plays to his acute sense of competitiveness.

“I have some good friends here who keep me grounded and treat me like a buddy – not like a hockey player who makes a lot of money,” Richards pointedly notes. “I like being myself and talking about something other than hockey.”

Among those in on the conversation is Pedro Bajo, 40, a Tampa attorney, who’s known Richards for about three years.

“Richy’s got everything under the sun; he’s incredibly blessed,” says Bajo. “But there’s not one ounce of ego. A great guy who really does care about others.”

Richards would doubtless be a hot celeb and an uber babe magnet at International Plaza’s Blue Martini or Prana in Ybor City. Instead, he’s more likely to be found off-ice at a casual neighborhood spot like The Rack in South Tampa watching football with buddies and sporting an anonymity ensemble of shorts, sandals, t-shirt and baseball cap.

When Richards does get into Ybor, it’s probably for sushi at Samurai Blue. Movies are usually the attraction at Channelside. He loves comedies and period pieces with action. Two all-time favorites: “Brave Heart” and “Gladiator.”

He’ll go out of his way to catch U-2 in concert, but will take pains to stay away from their politics. “As a Canadian in America, it makes no sense,” he explains.

“Richy’s just a real regular guy,” says Nova Scotia native and Tampa resident Matt Hill, 30, one of Richards’ inner-circle buds. “I’ve known him for 15 years. There’s never a sense of star or celebrity with him.”

But there is a decided sense of humor, points out Tanya Hill, 30, Matt’s wife. “He loves puns, and he loves poking fun at his friends,” she says.

She also reveals another dynamic to some of those SoHo nights out.

“Let’s just say that girls find him very handsome,” says Hill. “He presents himself so well. They get nervous around him. The better you know him, the better looking he gets. But he never takes advantage of the situation. He’s very respectful to women.”

He’s also likely to remain among the Bay Area’s — and Canada’s — most eligible bachelors for a while. Richards says a steady girl friend, let alone a bride, is incompatible with his career at this stage.

“There will be a time, but right now the lifestyle works against it,” emphasizes Richards. “Athletes’ wives have it tough.”

However, when the right time and the right woman intersect, he’ll be ready with his criteria, states Richards, who admits to being “methodical” about such things. His short list: honesty, loyalty, a sense of humor and a willingness to “come to PEI in the summer.”

And it couldn’t hurt, he concedes with an impish grin, if that special someone didn’t initially know he was a celebrated, wealthy hockey player.

And speaking of wealth, when Richards signed his 5-year, $39-million deal, the speculation was rife among the media about the pressure it would yield.

“Sure, it’s definitely an issue, but it comes with the territory,” acknowledges Richards. “You have to be mature enough to handle it. There’s more responsibility now.”

That means the Lightning want even more production from the 6’1″, 198-pound Richards – even though he led the team with 91 points last season. The ante is also raised on leadership.

“I’ll always be myself,” says Richards, now an alternate captain. “I’m not a ‘yeller.’ I think you lead by example. How you handle yourself on and off the ice.”

And Richards takes the latter as seriously as he does goals and assists. He started the Brad Richards’ Charitable Foundation here and raises awareness and money for autism and the Children’s Wish Foundation in PEI. He’s a fixture at Bay Area charity events, especially when they involve the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the Children’s Cancer Center. He also serves on the CCC board.

“Who I am goes back to my parents,” says Richards. “The first rule was ‘be a good person.’ That meant treating people with respect and sharing.”

Veteran Tampa Tribune sports columnist Joe Henderson’s take on Richards speaks volumes. “Put it is this way,” assesses Henderson, “He’s just about the classiest act I’ve ever run across in 32 years at the Trib. There is no athlete more committed, more genuine or more caring than Brad Richards.”

Richards is much more accepting of praise for his hockey skills than of acclaim for his off-ice endeavors. “The charity work doesn’t make me some great person,” he says. “I’m just helping out, bringing awareness to a cause and encouraging others to help in their own way.”

Suite Escape From Cancer

Nothing, including hockey, defines Brad Richards more than his work with families who have a child with cancer. His motivation harkens back to the loss of his cousin and best friend, Jamie Reynolds, to a brain tumor. Jamie was 5, Brad 7.

And nothing underscores his commitment more than Suite 521 at the St. Pete Times Forum. Adorned with kid-friendly posters, photos and murals, as well as arts & crafts materials, a TV and video-game equipment, it’s the heart and soul of his “Richy’s Rascals” charity program.

For an entire season (and at least the next four), Richards leases the catered, luxury suite — at a hefty, 6-figure cost — that can accommodate groups of 18. Typically, that’s about five cancer families from the CCC and the PCF.

After the games, Richards then personally meets with all the families.

“If things didn’t go well, I can redeem myself the next game,” points out Richards. “They may not have a next day.”

Mary Ann Massolio, executive director of the CCC, stresses that Richards doesn’t put in cameos. “He spends time with each child, knows their names and something unique about them,” she says. “He really gets it in a big way.

“When we lose children, he’s the first to send a card, and he attends funerals when his schedule permits. He’s a unique young man,” adds Massolio.

“It tells you volumes about the inner man, when you see how someone treats a child,” says Holly Wade, whose 11-year-old son, Daniel, lost his battle with brain cancer earlier this year.

Daniel had no hair; wore a mask; and was in a wheel chair. There was no such thing as a n
ormal night out with the family — until Brad Richards entered their lives.

“He gave us the opportunity to be together as a family,” Wade recalls. “It was safe, and cancer wasn’t the focus. Brad Richards is one in a million. We’re proud and honored that he knew Daniel. From a mom’s perspective, he’s one of mine.”

Then there’s 8-year-old Erin Kisielewski, a leukemia patient currently in remission. Like a lot of little – and some not so little – girls, she has a major crush on Richards. After a game, she went up to Richards’ date and said, “Oh, you can be his girl friend, but I’m his fiancée.”

When Brad walks in, says Erin’s mother, Donna Kisielewski, “You can see how special the kids feel. Here’s this mild-mannered, Superman sort with this incredibly calming personality. And everything bad that has happened is completely forgotten.”

Design of the times in Ybor

Developers we expect this from. Even a community college.

But what is it about historic districts such as Ybor City that even architects don’t get? There is a reason, seemingly obvious, that such districts are so designated.

C’mon, Penet Land Corp. and Ken Kroger. Design your night club-restaurant as if Ybor wasn’t Miami Beach. And don’t cry creative restraint when it’s architectural ego that is the deal-breaker.