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For this Tampa Bay mayoral power trio, a final local show [Tampa Bay Times]

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By Charlie Frago

CLEARWATER — Early on during his joint appearance with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman noted the numerous political road shows the three have done over the the years.

On Thursday, before a friendly crowd of Suncoast Tiger Bay members at the Feather Sound Country Club, their performance could have been dubbed “The Three Amigos.”

The mayors, all in their second and final terms, frequently lunch together. They didn’t miss an opportunity to praise one another between bouts of tooting the horns of their respective municipalities.

Thursday’s theme was unity and regional cooperation.

“The days of fighting over bridges and institutions are over. Buried. Dead,” said Buckhorn, who leaves office on May 1.

Simmering tensions between Tampa and St. Petersburg over Tampa’s plan to convert highly-treated wastewater to drinking water didn’t surface. Nor did anything else that might ruin their party.

For nearly an hour, the mayors joked and poked gentle fun at each other between fielding serious questions about affordable housing, gridlock, climate change and the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Tampa is the best city because we’re so secure in our identity we gave you back your baseball team,” quipped Buckhorn, who said he didn’t have any idea if the region would hold on to its major-league baseball team.

Kriseman said he still believes the 86-acre Tropicana Field site is the best place for the Rays. He said he looked forward to talking with team executives, but was noncommittal on his city’s chances.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Cretekos, who drew a big laugh when he referred to the region as “Clearwater Bay,” reminded the crowd that his city would continue to host the Philadelphia Phillies for spring training.

Hillsborough County’s one-cent transit tax, approved by voters in November but currently tied up in court, was praised by the Pinellas County mayors as something to emulate.

“We’ve got to learn a lot from Hillsborough on how they did it,” said Kriseman, who said he welcomed “elevated aerial transit” and rapid transit bus systems among other options to ease congestion.

“I don’t care what it is, but we’ve got to take those steps forward,” he said.

Buckhorn advised Pinellas residents to create a grassroots effort instead of a top-down push. Cretekos reminded the predominantly Pinellas crowd that two previous efforts across the bay in 2010 and 2016 to provide a dedicated funding source for roads and transit failed.

The mayors also discussed how their cities need to combat climate change. Seawalls, better stormwater and sewage systems and adaptive building codes were all mentioned.

Buckhorn singled out Kriseman for praise, saying his leadership has paved the way for the region to adapt to a changing climate.

Kriseman, who opened his remarks by calling President Donald Trump’s shutdown of the federal government “unconscionable,’ described his administration as a political hybrid.

“We’re proving you can be progressive and pro-growth business friendly,” said the Democratic mayor.

Moderator Adam Smith, a Tampa Bay Times columnist and political editor, jokingly told the crowd before Kriseman’s opening remarks to be prepared for Kriseman to try out his 2022 gubernatorial stump speech.

Kriseman has three more years in his term. Cretekos is slated to serve until his term ends in 2020. But Buckhorn is counting down his final weeks in office.

While Buckhorn joked that he’ll be an Uber driver after he leaves office, Kriseman and Cretekos praised his leadership.

“This is Mayor Bob’s last time with each one of us. I would hope you all appreciate what he has done for the Tampa Bay area, directly and indirectly, because his successor has got some really big shoes to fill,” Cretekos said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459 . Follow@CharlieFrago .

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club celebrates 40 years [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club was never going to be just another civic organization programming speakers. Since its inception in 1978, the emphasis of Tiger Bay – a non-partisan political club – has been as much on member questions, and responses, as the presentations. According to charter member and former president Tom Dunn, the idea was to “ask penetrating questions, hold speakers accountable and reinforce public ethical standards.”

A remarkable array of guests have “walked through the tiger’s jaws” in 40 years. The names come tumbling out: George H. W. Bush, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush, Pat Robertson, John Glenn, Bob Martinez, Connie Mack, Bill Nelson, Paula Hawkins, Marion Hammer, Charlie Crist, Jack Eckerd, C. W. Bill Young, Paul Tash, Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman, Gabe Cazares, George Plimpton, Alan Harvey, Buddy McKay, Martin Dyckman and many, many more. Two full generations of Floridian and American history – and many have walked away with marks from the tiger’s fangs and claws.

(Consequently, Tiger Bay’s “Fang and Claw Award” evolved – presented to that member asking the most penetrating question at each event.)

The idea for the club, according to former Tiger Bay president Bob Stewart, began at a luncheon meeting held at Landmark Union Trust Bank. St. Petersburg attorney and gubernatorial candidate Raleigh W. Greene, who’d survived a grilling while speaking to Miami’s Tiger Bay Club, proposed establishing a similar organization in St. Pete.

Others at the organizational meeting included banker Howard Nix, attorney Bill Davenport, former chair of the Chamber of Commerce Tom McLean, and Stewart.  Mike Richardson, of the Evening Independent, soon joined in the effort.  A board of directors was formed, and various administrative matters attended to.

Tiger Bay was publicly announced on Sept. 20, 1978. “We want it to be truly wide-open and broad-based,” McLean said at the breakfast event. “The real value of a Tiger Bay Club is that a meeting becomes such a media event.  We want to generate news. Questions are only allowed from club members, but these people should be able to ask some very pointed questions.”

The first meeting was held Oct. 13 at the Hilton Hotel, with Wayne Mixon, candidate for lieutenant governor, as guest speaker. The St. Petersburg Times noted that Tiger Bay was getting off to a “low-key” start with mostly “mushy, easy questions” from an audience of about 150.  Club organizers downplayed that critique but conceded the need for “a little more in-depth questions.”

Over the years the club struggled with the sharpness of questions, or lack thereof. In 1999, Times columnist Howard Troxler berated the club under the headline “Skip the Catnap, and Get Back on the Prowl.” After stating that he had appeared twice before the club without the tigers “ever laying a claw on me,” he criticized the club for giving city councilwoman Kathleen Ford a free ride. Dunn agreed: “We were pathetic,” he recalled. “There’s a difference between being rude and asking insightful and incisive questions.”

Another program featured Betty Castor, who at the time was running for state education commissioner. It was to be a debate between Castor and her opponent, but the opponent got sick and sent his mother to debate Castor instead. Club rules were that surrogates – including mothers – could not substitute for the invited speaker. Nevertheless the club reserved an empty chair for the missing candidate, and Dunn would briefly address the empty chair when it was time for the missing candidate to present, or rebut.

Over its four decades, Tiger Bay programs ranged from serious to comic, and the best were a mixture of both. In 1984, comedian and perennial presidential candidate Pat Paulsen addressed the club. He stated that while he had announced three times that he would like to be president, he did not think he would ever launch a serious campaign. “I certainly wouldn’t want the job, but I don’t think things would break down if I was elected because I wouldn’t do anything.”

One of the most contentious issues in the city in the 1980s was whether to build a stadium for Major League Baseball. Construction of a multi-purpose sports facility was approved by the city council in July of 1986. At that time there was no commitment from MLB to provide a team to play in the new stadium, and that did not happen until five years after the stadium was built. Governor Bob Graham stated that the council vote demonstrated “a lot of optimism for the future of St. Petersburg.”

During his first Tiger Bay appearance, Graham also got a laugh when he said he was bringing a baseball franchise to Tampa Bay, but there would be three drawbacks: The franchise would be awarded to the Tampa Bay Bucs; Lieutenant Governor John McKay would be the team’s manager; and Graham would be the relief pitcher.

Twelve years later, Graham again addressed the club tongue in cheek about baseball, “taking credit” for the at-the-time winning record of the Tampa Bay Rays by doing a work day at the stadium helping to construct the bullpens “using poor quality dirt in the visitor’s bullpen.”

In 1996, the city was rocked by the shooting of 18-year old TyRon Mark Lewis, which ignited two-nights of racially-charged violence and civil disturbance. Tiger Bay squarely addressed both the shooting and other root causes of the disturbance. Police chief Darrel Stephens told the club: “Somehow, we have to learn greater tolerance so we can at least engage in healthy conversation without all the labels … we can all do better at seeking out opportunities to enhance understanding and sensitivity.”

Stephens was shortly followed in another program featuring Mayor David Fischer. Fischer, speaking about a $20 million federal aid package provided the city to address root causes of poverty, said “There are people who I believe can’t be helped, but at the same time there are a lot of people caught in a web that I believe can be helped. If you want to say nobody can be helped, you’re fooling yourself but winding up with a dangerous community.”

The club also invited Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, to reflect on the Lewis shooting and its aftermath. Yeshitela said that the city must commit to economic development for African-American neighborhoods, not handouts but capital, so the neighborhoods could rebuild themselves. He was asked what he would do if he were mayor? “First of all,” he said, “I’d call me.”

Tiger Bay also has an annual meeting, where awards are presented and members kick back and have fun. Over the years such entertainers as Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps have appeared.

Tiger Bay presents two awards and has two programs for young people.  The Ben Franklin Award recognizes exemplary public leadership. Former Tiger Bay President Jade Moore once stated the club named the award for Ben Franklin because Franklin “exemplified public service without enslavement to public opinion.” Recipients of the award are a who’s who of local and state political life: The first recipient in 1981 was school board member Martha Rudy Wallace.  This year’s recipient is State Attorney Bernie McCabe.   The club also presents the Susan B. Anthony Grassroots Award to a person whose grassroots efforts have made a singular contribution to public policy, or by contributing to a broader understanding of public affairs.  The 2015 award went to Dr. Yvonne-Scruggs-Leftwich

The Margo Fischer Young Tiger Program was created to encourage youth to take interest in public affairs. During the school year, high school juniors and seniors, as well as Political Science students from local colleges, are invited to club meetings. Full member privileges, including the right to ask questions, are extended to the “Young Tigers.”

Some have walked away with the Fang & Claw Award. The Dorothy Walker Ruggles Democracy Scholarships are awarded to graduating high school seniors through the Pinellas County Education Foundation.

Suncoast Tiger Bay’s current president, Kelly Kirschner, emphasizes that “one of the many 21stcentury trials we face is to step out of the digital realm, and reaffirm our commitment to building a stronger civic commons by being physically present and interacting with our fellow citizens in organizations such as Tiger Bay.”

Turning 40 is a big birthday in our culture, not just for people, but also organizations. It’s a time for Tiger Bay to celebrate, but also reflect, recharge, and plan for the no less exciting years ahead.

 

Will Michaels is the former director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History and author of The Making of St. Petersburg and the Hidden History of St. Petersburg.  He is also a long-time member of Tiger Bay and may be reached at wmichaels2222@gmail.com.

Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Manager Urges Gillum To Stick To His Progressive Message [WUSF]

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The campaign manager for Senator Bernie Sanders had a little advice for the Democratic hopeful for Florida governor during a visit to St. Petersburg Thursday. It boils down to: stick to your guns.

Jeff Weaver has been with the iconic Vermont Senator for decades, helping mold Sanders’ image as a defender of the “99 percent.”

Weaver told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club the Florida governor’s contest is this year’s marquee billing. He says this is a clear choice between a right-wing candidate, Republican Ron DeSantis, and the progressive he arranged for Sanders to campaign alongside, Democrat Andrew Gillum.

“He put together the kind of coalition that is going to be critical going forward for the Democratic Party to win,” Weaver said. “There’s so many young people who have given up on the Democratic Party, and politics in general, and people like Andrew Gillum are bringing them back in. That was one of the things that Bernie Sanders did, one of the things that Barack Obama did.”

Weaver says for Gillum to win, he needs to expand his base of younger, more liberal voters and reach out to traditional Democrats like the working middle class.  Weaver said his role model would be Franklin D. Roosevelt and his grand coalition of working men and women and progressives.

“I argue that by returning to those roots, and people like Andrew Gillum and Bernie Sanders, Stacey Abrams in Georgia and others,” he said, “that we in fact can reconstitute that grand coalition that made the Democratic Party the dominant party in this country.”

In a victory for two candidates considered “outsiders,” Gillum bested four Democratic candidates for the nomination, and DeSantis beat the early favorite, Agriculture Comissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow.

Chris King calls his religious faith a ‘curiosity’ in Democratic party [Tampa Bay Times]

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“My party has ceded way too much ground on faith and family values,” King tells at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Pete.

Trailing in polls with the primary only 22 day away, Democratic candidate for governor Chris King opened up a new issue in a speech Wednesday – his own religious faith and how Democrats should stand up against what he called the “increasingly dangerous” politics of the religious right.

King said he is “something of a curiosity in the Democratic Party” because of his strong religious faith, which he said stems from a conversion experience at age 15.

Emphasizing that he believes in the separation of church and state, King said Democrats should adopt politics that reflects what he said are true Christian values – concern for the poor and underprivileged, acceptance of racial and gender diversity, and ensuring availability of health coverage, affordable housing and quality public education.

“Faith in its purest and most noble form is about caring,” King, a wealthy Winter Park businessman, told a small crowd at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

“My party has ceded way too much ground on faith and family values. We have allowed a highly weaponized strand of evangelical Republicanism to form that is tearing our nation apart. That was on full display in Tampa last week with Trump’s visit.”

King said he has purposely avoided speaking about his religious commitment so far – “I never wanted to exploit it for political gain.”

His campaign said changing that will be part of his closing argument to voters.

“We’ve got 22 days left in this campaign, and I believe this is a moment in our politics that caused me to speak out on an increasingly dangerous strand of white evangelical conservatism that is plundering the role of faith and politics in our state and our nation,” he said.

“I believe in a gospel of love that fights for the right of children to be united with their families – one that believes that it is a sin that we have 2.5 million Floridians without access to health care,” he said.

According to a recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey, King is last-place in single digits in 5-way primary, but he noted undecided numbers are still high and the winner may have no more than 25 percent.

But King said, “I’m giving it everything I’ve got … I’m a believer in that David and Goliath thing.”

Asked which other candidate he would support if he lost, King wouldn’t say, but in discussing the field of candidates, he had kind words mainly for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, “who has become a good friend of mine.”

King told the crowd that he gets strong support from black churches, but, “There aren’t many white churches that are asking me to speak,” and said more white politicians and Democrats should talk about race problems.

Asked about separation of church and state, he said, “I have those same concerns,” and that separation is necessary to protect the religious community.

“I’m not going up there to proselytize, I’m not going up there to impose my values. But you cannot divorce your values from your leadership.”

King said he is pro-choice on abortion, and that outlawing it wouldn’t stop it. But he said government policies of “caring for families,” including health care, affordable housing and education, would cut the number of abortions.

King also reiterated his statements Sunday at a rally at an African-American church in Palmetto protesting the death of Markeis McGlockton and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. He said that’s part of his motivation to begin talking about faith, calling the rally “the most meaningful day of my campaign so far.”

“If Markeis had been white, if Markeis had been Chris King … and I had come out, maybe lost my temper, pushed him, and he had shot and killed a white man, I believe justice would have looked very different,” he said.

“Y’all are gonna mess around and have a preacher in the governor’s mansion,” Rev. Benjamin Adams Jr. remarked after King spoke.